Big snow set to follow the rain
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Dunedin was cut off to the north this afternoon as Otago rivers breached their banks and flowed across State Highway 1.
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And when Otago finally sees off the rain, its residents can expect a polar blast that one forecaster said could see their northern neighbours in Canterbury experiencing the worst snowfall in 20 years.
New Zealand Transport Agency Otago Southland highway operations manager Roger Bailey said flooding on several parts of State Highway 1 between Dunedin and the Waitaki River bridge in North Otago would halt motorists.
"There are a number of closures because of surface flooding and people can't get through to Christchurch." he said.
The route south out of Dunedin remained open, but motorists had to travel with extreme caution, especially between Milton and Clarksville Junction where flood waters were across the road.
Bailey said he understood rivers had now peaked with the hope some flooding would recede, but that depended on how long the rain continued and the intensity of it.
In north Otago, with SH1 was closed in three areas around Maheno, Kakanui and Oamaru and State Highway 87 was closed at Hyde and Kyeburn.
A detour off the main highway around SH83 north of Oamaru had been abandoned because of flood damage.
In Christchurch, flooding has closed two schools and several roads.
Christ The King School in Greers Rd, Burnside, closed because of "severe flooding" on the primary school's grounds overnight, making access to the school toilets difficult. Rangiora High School was closed at 11am due to surface flooding.
In north Canterbury, Ashley School and Sefton School, closed early because of the flooding.
Civil Defence has opened a welfare centre at Mairehau Primary School for those affected by the area's flooding.
The Christchurch City Council said there was surface flooding in Beckenham, New Brighton, St Albans, Northwood, Burnside and Sumner. One northbound lane on the Fitzgerald Ave bridge, north of Kilmore St, was flooded.
Spokesman John Mackie warned motorists to take care because surface flooding could conceal potholes.
A Fire Service spokesman said firefighters had attended 49 weather-related incidents in the South Island between 6.20am and 10.30am today, including 35 in Canterbury.
Meanwhile, weather forecasters are warning that after the rain stops, South Islanders especially should brace themselves for snow.
MetService spokesman Dan Corbett said today that after the present flow from the sub-tropics stopped, it would be replaced by one coming from the Antarctic, through Wednesday and Thursday.
"Places across the south of the South Island will probably see snow to low levels," he said.
It was too early to predict where snow would fall, but it was not out of the question for Christchurch on Thursday and Friday. Some snow could also fall on the Rimutaka hill north of Wellington.
"Everyone is going to feel the cold," he said.
The MetService website was down for maintenance today limiting access to information about the weather.
In Auckland the expected maximum for Friday was just 10 degrees Celsius.
Blue Skies weather forecaster Tony Trewinnard said up to 20 centimetres of snow could fall to sea level in Canterbury on Thursday and Friday, with up to 40cm above 200 metres and up to 60cm above 400m.
He said this would be the biggest snowfall for the region in 20 years.
"To have it potentially last two days is quite unusual (for Christchurch) and could potentially become quite hazardous," he said.
LIGHTNING SHOCK FOR PASSENGERS
Flights in and out of Christchurch and Dunedin do not appear to be delayed by the weather, but 160 passengers flying from Christchurch to Auckland were given a fright when their plane was struck by lightning.
Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel was on the Air New Zealand flight when she heard a ''bang and a flash''.
The plane was travelling through cloud when the lightning struck and the pilot spoke to passengers a few minutes later to let them know what had happened.
Dalziel said she had never been in a plane when it was hit by lightning before and was surprised by the noise it made.
''It wasn't terribly loud, although it woke up my fellow passenger. In all the time I've been flying it hadn't happened before I'm glad that's all it was.''
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman confirmed flight 504 from Christchurch to Auckland was hit by lightning on its approach to Auckland this morning.
There had been 163 passengers on board.
The aircraft would now be inspected by engineers before being cleared to return to service, the spokeswoman said.
Blue Skies' Trewinnard said up to 20cm of snow could fall to sea level in Canterbury on Thursday and Friday, with up to 40cm above 200 metres and up to 60cm above 400m. He said this would be the biggest snowfall for the region in 20 years.
''To have it potentially last two days is quite unusual (for Christchurch) and could potentially become quite hazardous.''