Roads re-open after big freeze

TOM HUNT AND MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 12:26 29/05/2013
Sugarloaf on Christchurch's Port Hills
Don Scott Zoom
WHITE-OUT: Sugarloaf stands out clearly from the snow coating Christchurch's Port Hills.

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Major North Island highways have re-opened following a cold snap which saw snow and ice halt traffic.

Treacherous road conditions on the North Island's Central Plateau had caused major traffic disruption after the Desert Road and surrounding highways were closed.

The closures meant traffic between Wellington and Auckland would have needed to take lengthy detours on lower-lying routes.

However the roads re-opened by midday, the NZTA said.

Around 30 cars and trucks had been waiting at Rangipo snow gate on State Highway One to travel south along the Desert Road.

Many had been waiting since dawn to travel but icy road conditions had caused road authorities to close the road until the weather improved.

NZTA area manager Alan Birkett said no vehicles had been trapped overnight.

State Highway 47 and 41 near Tokaanu were both closed to traffic wanting to travel to National Park and Taumarunui.

Earlier, contractors had to try to clear SH4 after two trucks collided near Raurimu, north of National Park Village.

Among those waiting at Rangipo were three van loads of families and supporters from Ruatoria who had been on the road for 12 hours after leaving the East Coast last night.

They planned to be at the 'march out' at Waiouru Military Camp this morning.

Gina Chaffey-Aupouri said the groups left Ruatoria at 5pm on Tuesday night, and were delayed when one van lost a wheel.

The group arrived at Rangipo at 7.30am this morning.    

Further south Wellington's Rimutaka Hill road had reopened around 8am, Owen told Radio New Zealand.

In the South Island, the worst was "well and truly over", NZTA Otago-Southland state highways operations manager Roger Bailey said.

"Generally all our highways are clear, we've only got the Milford Road between the Homer Tunnel and Milford Sound closed at this stage."

"There are still shady bits and there's still pockets of snow and ice lying around on the roads, and we do have one or two restricted areas where trucks can't tow trailers and so on."

MetService said sleet and snow continued to fall around the Central Plateau this morning, but there would be an improving trend today.

Some light snow showers were still expected around the southern Wairarapa north to National Park, forecaster Leigh Matheson said.

"But as the morning progresses we should actually see those showers ease off and temperatures slowly rise. So, I think it's a general improving trend," she told Radio New Zealand.

The South Island was in the clear, Matheson said."Any sleet that's seen this morning around the hills will just turn into showers as the day progresses."

Most coastal areas should warm up, but sheltered inland areas would be frosty tonight.

"Parts of central North Island and inland parts of South Island could get quite severe frosts tonight."

MetService meteorologist Dan Corbett said snow fell to about 300m above sea level around Wellington last night.

The Rimutaka Hill, which was getting wind gusts up to 85kmh this morning, was 1degC at 7.30am.

Between midnight and 6am southerly winds averaged between 98kmh and 120kmh in Wellington.

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''It's very gusty but it looks like the strongest winds are going to start easing back.''

Compounding traffic issues, State Highway 4 near Raurimu was blocked this morning by a two-truck crash.
Police said the crash happened about 3am about 500m south of Raurimu.

The two trucks got locked together side by side in the crash and could not be moved.

The road was closed to all traffic.

Heavy recovery equipment from Taupo was expected to clear the damaged trucks.

Inspector Ken Climo, of police central communications, confirmed the road closures meant the only open highways that now linked Wellington with the upper North Island were via Taranaki or Hawke's Bay - both lengthy detours.

In Christchurch a small earthquake woke some residents this morning as snow blanketed homes and streets across the city and Port Hills.

The magnitude-3.5 quake struck shortly before 7am, at 8km deep, and was centred just east of the central city, according to early Geonet reports.

The morning was clear but cold, with MetService saying cold southwesterlies would die out.

Overnight blizzard-like conditions left several Banks Peninsula roads closed and others restricted to 4WDs.

WARMER TEMPERATURES RETURNING

MetService said there would be an improving trend in the weather today.

Some light snow showers were still expected around the southern Wairarapa north to National Park, forecaster Leigh Matheson said.

"But as the morning progresses we should actually see those showers ease off and temperatures slowly rise. So, I think it's a general improving trend," she told Radio New Zealand.

"Any sleet that's seen this morning around the hills will just turn into showers as the day progresses."

The South Island was in the clear, Matheson said.

Most coastal areas should warm up, but sheltered inland areas would be frosty tonight.

"Parts of central North Island and inland parts of South Island could get quite severe frosts tonight."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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