Up to 2000 householders are being warned to prepare for a night without power and treacherous conditions have forced Lewis and Arthurs Pass to close for the night and all Air NZ flights to be cancelled in and out of Christchurch.
LATEST: Power has been restored to 1500 homes across the Orion electricity network including parts of Marshlands, Spencerville, Brooklands, West Melton and Hororata.
An Orion spokeswoman said power was restored at about 5.30pm.
However, 2000 homes in the area remained without power, and those without electricity were being told to prepare for a cold night.
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Hanmer Springs is "completely cut off", 11 homes have been evacuated on the West Coast, and temperatures have plunged to the coldest seen in June for decades.
The MetService says snow is likely to clear by midnight but temperatures of -3deg or lower were forecast overnight meaning a heavy frost was likely by dawn.
Frost, snow and ice were likely to bring treacherous road conditions for those returning to work on Thursday.
Police have issued a warning to motorists to be extra cautious overnight and tomorrow morning.
Dyers Pass Rd may be open tomorrow
Christchurch City Council contractors are continuing snow-clearing work in the Port Hills tonight with the aim of reopening Dyers Pass Rd from the Sign of the Takahe to Governors Bay tonight.
The road would be cleared, gritted and reopened, which may allow it to remain open to road users tomorrow morning.
The road will be reassessed early tomorrow and a decision over whether it could remain open made.
Some schools to reopen
Some Christchurch schools have announced they plan to reopen tomorrow.
Cashmere High School will reopen tomorrow at the later start time of 10.30am.
Students have been asked to wear suitable mufti, including boots. However, if heavy snow conditions continue overnight the decision to open will be reviewed at 9am tomorrow.
Hornby Primary School would reopen from 10am for students. Any changes to this will be updated via the school's website.
Shirley Boys' High School would reopen from 8.25am tomorrow, while Aranui High School would be open tomorrow as normal.
Rangiora High School was also likely to be open as usual tomorrow.
Many other schools said they would be making announcements on their websites either later tonight or tomorrow morning. Parents and students were being asked to check for updates regularly.
Meanwhile, Darfield High School has announced it would be "closed for instruction" tomorrow, as "deep snow and predicted cold temperatures will make travel unsafe."
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Only one District Court will be sitting in Christchurch tomorrow, because of the continuing effects of the snowstorm.
All courts will be closed except for a 9.30am session that will handle Youth Court arrests, and then the District Courts overnight arrests in Court 2 from 10am.
These sessions will sit in the tower building in Durham St.
All other court hearings will be rescheduled and parties will be notified of the new hearing dates.
Power cut to thousands of homes
About 3,500 customers remain without power across the Orion electricity network including parts of Marshlands, Spencerville, Brooklands, West Melton and Hororata - mostly where trees weighed down by snow have fallen onto power lines.
Snow is still falling heavily across the Orion area in Christchurch and central Canterbury. It appears that the cold front has stalled over Christchurch and the area inland to Annat.
"Access for our repair crews is hampered by the conditions. Our teams will continue to work as quickly and safely as they can until nightfall, however it's likely that some people will be without power overnight," said Orion chief executive Rob Jamieson.
He advised those whose power was off to prepare for a night without power, to wrap up warmly and contact friends and family for help where necessary.
Orion has urged people to stay clear of any fallen power lines and treat them as live at all times. To report lines down call Orion on 03 363 9898.
Jamieson said the damage was a reminder that trees near power lines needed to be kept trimmed.
"This type of snow is relatively 'dry', so it doesn't tend to build up on power lines. It can however stick to bigger surfaces like tree branches, and that's why we've seen some cuts today."
Orion customers without power should phone 03 363 9898.
Thousands of homes in North Canterbury also lost power.
Mainpower engineering manager Pete Hurford said pockets of homes from Hawarden to Kaikoura had been affected.
"We had a lot of snowfalls in North Canterbury and a lot of power down."
Power had been restored to the Kaikoura area, but was lost again about lunch time, Hurford said.
It was believed snow or trees on powerlines would have caused the outage, but teams were looking for the fault now, he said.
"Conditions aren't great. There's still plenty of pockets of isolated trouble right down to Oxford, but it's inland more than coastal."
Restoring power to Kaikoura was Mainpower's main priority at the moment, he said.
Some homes could be without power for up to a day, Hurford said.
Up to 500 homes in the Springston area lost power about 7.40pm last night, but power had been restored to all affected homes now.
The spokeswoman said the outage was caused by heavy rain and strong winds in the area.
Power was restored to homes "in pockets" during the night, with a small number of homes being without power for nine hours.
Travel affected by snow
Two main state highways have been closed overnight due to safety concerns.
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has announced State Highway 7 the Lewis Pass and State Highway 73 at Arthurs Pass would be closed overnight.
The call to close these two passes overnight was driven by concerns for the safety of both road users and road contractors, who were working in fairly severe weather conditions.
NZTA spokesman Colin Knaggs said the situation would be reviewed at first light tomorrow.
"There is over a metre of snow on both passes and the situation is being aggravated by a number of falling trees. These are some of the worst winter conditions we have seen in this area in June."
Knaggs said, while the closures would cause some inconvenience, the safety of people had to come first.
"The weather forecast for the next 24 hours is looking a bit more promising and weather willing, we hope to have these passes operating as soon as possible tomorrow".
State highways in and around Christchurch remained open, but were affected by slushy snow. The big concern was that overnight temperatures below zero were predicted and may cause major ice problems in the morning.
"While traffic is moving, drivers need to take extreme care, and not let themselves become frustrated with what at times, may be slow progress for them," Knaggs said.
Meanwhile, two roads have re-opened in Christchurch, as the Christchurch City Council continues to clear the hill roads of snow.
Hackthorne Rd has been reopened and Dyers Pass Rd is now open from the base to the Sign of the Takahe.
Snow clearing is continuing on other hill roads.
Motorists are still being advised to to take extreme caution while travelling around the city.
Updated road condition report for Port Hills and Banks Peninsula are available here.
Police said road conditions were likely to remain challenging through the night, and the possibility of ice on roads posed an additional hazard to drivers.
Canterbury road policing manager Inspector Al Stewart said drivers should be wary of ice hazards which might follow in the wake of snow.
"Drivers need to be aware that while snow is a clearly visible hazard, there may be large areas of ice on the roads later that they will not be able to see, especially in rural and shaded areas. It will be important for people to keep speeds down and drive cautiously as they have today.
"Slow down, extend your following distances and get to where you are going safely," Stewart said.
There were six road crashes reported between noon and 4pm today, none of which were serious. Minor injuries were reported at one incident.
If road conditions are poor, drivers should consider seeking alternative transport, or avoid non-essential travel, he said.
Employees should contact their employers about travel to and from work.
All Air New Zealand flights to and from Christchurch Airport have been cancelled for the remainder of the day.
Customers will be booked onto the next available service once flights are operating again.
As a result of the snow affecting parts of the South Island a large number of flights across the country are also delayed or cancelled.
Air New Zealand customers are advised to check the airline's website for arrivals and departures information or phone 0800 737 000.
Container mall and The Palms shut, rush on gumboots
The Re:Start pop-up mall has stayed closed today due to the "dangerous roads" surrounding Cashel St.
Re:Start manager Paul Lonsdale said it was regretful the mall was not able to open due to the snow.
"We left the decision whether to open or not up to individual shop owners this morning. A few did actually open for a while, but most decided to stay closed because the roads around the mall are very dangerous.
"Any day that the shops remain closed is obviously not a good day for trading, but it's hard to say what effect this snow day will have on shopping on the central city."
Lonsdale said it was hoped they would be able to re-open Re:Start again on Thursday morning.
"We have made arrangements to see that all the the snow is cleared tomorrow so that our customers are able to get in."
The Palms Shopping Centre closed at midday to make sure the retailers could make the journey home safely, centre manager Simon Clark said.
Countdown inside the mall, which had seen lots of people stocking up supplies throughout the day, remains open and will review its decision at 3pm.
Eastgate Shopping Centre, Westfield Riccarton and Northlands Shopping Centre remain open, however some retailers chose to close to let their staff get home safely.
Eastgate centre manager Graeme Roberts said the mall's Countdown supermarket had been ''absolutely booming'' all day with people stocking up on supplies, while The Warehouse had sold out of gumboots for the second year in a row, he said.
Snow build up on the roof was not a problem, however it was still monitored, he said.
The main roads bordering the centre had remained relatively clear due to constant traffic, however snow had settled on side roads.
Eastgate is owned by NZX-listed NPT, formerly the National Property Trust, which also manages Avonhead Mall, which remained open, Roberts said.
Hanmer 'completely cut off', pools close
A spokeswoman from the Hanmer Visitor Centre said the snow was not showing any signs of letting up. "Most businesses were closed today, apart from a handful that had generators.
She said the power had been off from 9.30am until 11am this morning but in some parts of the village it had been out for much longer.
The hot springs were also closed as the water could not be filtered and re-heated in time. They weren't expected to open until tomorrow, she said.
"Hanmer is completely cut off. Nobody can leave and nobody can come in."
Alan Kuriger from Alpine Adventure Holiday Park said most people had shut up shop because of the power cuts. "The businesses that could open, did, but then lost power and nobody could work their tills."
He said a fallen wire lying in a paddock 400m from the park was still sparking, and he didn't have high hopes for power to be returned until the wire was fixed.
Kuriger said the roads were slippery and dangerous. "If you're driving anywhere, you're using chains".
However, while the snowfall has shut the village down, it hasn't been too bad for business. "This time of year it doesn't make too much of a difference.
"There are only eight people here anyway and one of them actually came to see the snow," he said.
Tom Dunbar said snow at his farm in Hanmer was so wet and heavy, it was collapsing electric fences. "The snow is really wet. There are quite a few trees down on fences which is shorting them out."
He said the outagges could set livestock on the loose. "We've got to put stock in other paddocks and we're having to use truck batteries to keep the fences hot.
"The snow is knee-deep in some places."
Coldest midday temperature in 30 years
Christchurch's midday air temperature was the lowest recorded in June in 30 years.
Weatherwatch.co.nz weather analyst Richard Green said the garden city's midday air temperature was -1degC.
"It's rare even during snow. This is a once-in-30 year event."
Green expected it to snow in Canterbury for up to another three hours.
The Airport had 15 centimetres of snow, along the Port Hills up to 18 cms of snow had fallen and throughout the city centre up to 10cms was covering the ground.
Last night's rain had stopped that amount doubling, he said.
The highest amount of snow recorded today was 50cms in Waddington and Sheffield, west of Christchurch. Darfield had 31cms.
He compared today's snowfall to that of 1992, when it snowed for nearly three days.
Fire service and ambulances busy
Wind, rain and snow has kept the fire service busy today.
Trees had fallen onto power lines in West Melton and Lincoln, and a tree had fallen over a caravan in McLeans Island. No one had been injured.
A tree had also fallen over a road in Kaiapoi about 12.20pm.
By 2pm, St John Ambulance had taken two people to hospital after they fell over on snow or ice.
A teenage girl in Rangiora was taken to Christchurch Hospital's emergency department with possible back injuries, while a woman in her 70s was taken from a Sumner property with possible arm injuries.
Meanwhile, chains have been fitted to some St John ambulances in North Canterbury and some in Christchurch have chains available if they are needed.
St John South Island operations manager Chris Haines advised people to continue to take care while driving and walking, and to look out for other people.
"We encourage people to keep themselves warm and keep an eye out for their friends and neighbours, particularly the elderly or frail, in these cold conditions."
Many workers sent home
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said most Christchurch workers had turned up to their jobs, with only some people living in hill suburbs being forced by the snow to stay home.
By late morning it was still snowing and he expected some employers to send staff home during the day while others would finish early.
"It's absolutely pelting down at the moment," he said shortly after 11am.
At that time a nearby car had about 12cm of snow on its roof, up from about 2cm at dawn, Townsend said.
The weather had dashed his plans for the day.
He had intended flying to Gisborne to take part in a forum marking the Transit of Venus, but his flight had been cancelled.
Schools, university closed
Schools, kindergartens, the courts, Canterbury University and many rural roads have also been closed across Christchurch and Canterbury.
The university said it would not reopen until midday Thursday.
Cashmere High has texted parents to say it will not reopen until 10.30am Thursday, though will review this decision at 9am. Students are urged to wear mufti and boots.
Forecasters warn more snow will be dumped on Canterbury before it starts to clear from tonight.
Its latest heavy snow warning predicted a further 40 to 80cm above 300 metres, 15 to 40cm of fresh snow between 100m and 300m and lesser amounts to sea level including Christchurch City.
The snow should clear in South Canterbury by mid-afternoon with snow expected to clear by tonight in Mid and North Canterbury.
The current temperature in Christchurch is 1 degree Celsius, which was ideal for snow, Holland said.
Schools in much of Christchurch have closed and Kidsfirst Kindergartens has closed all of its 59 Canterbury kindergartens.
The early winter snow storm has also forced the cancellation of tonight's Christchurch concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
The performance in the Aurora Centre featuring the visiting French organ virtuoso Olivier Latry, was abandoned due to bad weather conditions and disrupted flights into Christchurch.
Ticket holders can receive a full refund.
Courts, buses, assistance centres closed
The council's rubbish collection has been delayed in several areas with residents told to leave their bins out for collection in the next couple of days.
Most Christchurch courts have been closed for the day. Jury trials were halted and the main court at the Court House was only going to handle overnight arrests and thsoe who have been remanded in custody, and would then adjourn for the day.
Cases scheduled for sentencing were to be given new dates. A registrar's pre-trial hearing court continued but all other criminal courts did not get under way.
The Christchurch District Court session for those on bail or summoned to court at the Nga Hau e Wha marae in Aranui was closed and cases due to be called today were being given new dates.
All family courts are closed for the day including mental healthhearings. Disputes and tenancy courts are closed. Cases will be rescheduled and parties notified.
Sittings at the Maori Land Court building at Aoraki House in Peterborough St were also closed.
Environment Canterbury said all bus services would stop from 11am today. They would be reassessed later.
The Avondale Earthquake Assistance Centre, based at the Avondale golf course, is closed for the day. The long ramp used to access the building is too hazardous to use in the snow.
The central city red zone remains open, said the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.
Plunket said all services are suspended for the day in Canterbury and mid-Canterbury.
- The Press
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