Snow falls as cold snap strikes south
Snow has closed highways in many parts of the South Island as an icy winter storm takes a grip on the country.
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MetService is expecting heavy snow above 200 metres in Canterbury and Marlborough through today and much of tomorrow, with snow falling to sea level in Southland and eastern Otago.
The agency said the heaviest snow reported by early today was at Lake Heron northwest of Methven, at around 700 metres, where about 34cm fell overnight.
Reports of 3 - 5cm had come in from areas at around 500 metres in Canterbury and Kaikoura.
Southeasterlies are expected to rise to severe gale force in western and northern areas from Fiordland to Nelson including northern Marlborough and Wellington, persisting into Friday afternoon.
Around 6am MetService forecaster Sarah Garlick said winds were starting to get up in Fiordland. Last night cold air had started to spread into Southland with snow starting to fall during the evening.
Residents in the deep south woke to temperatures below freezing, with the mercury not expected to get much above 0 degrees Celsius in many places.
The cold snap had already caused travel disruption with many highways in Otago, Southland, and South Canterbury closed, while Air New Zealand advised flights had been cancelled from Invercargill and Dunedin.
Police last night rescued the occupants of 20 cars stranded on Southland's Jollies Pass.
Dozens of cars were stranded or slid off the road near Lumsden as snow began to fall.
Snow showers have been reported in Te Anau and Five Rivers, in the Hokonui hills near Gore, and at Wairio near Nightcaps. Bluff residents have also reported "teeny snow showers".
Senior Sergeant Dave Raynes, of Invercargill, said a grader had travelled along the closed State Highway 96 between Queenstown and Lumsden, rescuing those stranded by the snow.
While some vehicles still remained stuck along the route, all drivers and passengers had now been safely transported from the area, he said.