Cantabrians get ready for heavy snowfalls

NICOLE MATHEWSON, ASHLEIGH STEWART AND PAUL GORMAN
Last updated 19:27 19/06/2013
Hagley Park
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

CALM BEFORE THE STORM: Christchurch at its misty, frosty winter peak as a cyclist makes his way through Hagley Park.

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Twenty vehicles are stranded on the Jollies Pass in Southland tonight after six cars slid off the road.

Contractors and police officers in 4WD vehicles were attempting to reach them tonight. 

Senior sergeant Dave Raynes said no injuries were reported, but he understood some vehicles had rolled over. 

State Highway 6 between Queenstown and Lumsden, where the Jollies are located, and the road between Mossburn and Five Rivers was closed at 6pm after snow began settling two hours earlier.

A truck also jack-knifed on the highway near Five Rivers after 5pm, and a rental vehicle slid off the road about the same time, a police spokesman said.

Severe weather forecaster Leigh Matheson said snow was not expected to fall in Christchurch city tonight. 

It was more likely Christchurch would get a significant amount of rain, which could be sleety at times, he said.

Snow was expected about Banks Peninsula, MetService said.

A very strong and cold southerly flow is spreading over the South Island tonight, with snow expected to lower to near sea level about southern and eastern areas.

Heavy snow was expected about Canterbury and southern parts of Marlborough above 300m.

"This is a significant event which is expected to persist through until Friday morning," MetService said in a severe weather warning.

Accumulations of snow were likely to exceed 50cm above 300m, and 100cm above 500m. Smaller amounts of snow were expected below 300m.

"People should be aware that snowfalls are likely to cause widespread disruption to traffic, especially about alpine passes and higher level roads."

Below 300m,  60-90mm of rain was expected during the period, including for Christchurch City, with 10 to 20cm of snow likely above 200m.

Severe gale southeasterlies were expected to develop about western and northern areas, from Fiordland to Nelson, including northern Marlborough and Wellington tomorrow and persist into Friday afternoon.

Damaging gusts of 130kmh were expected in exposed places, and could possibly reach 150kmh through parts of Westland. Wind chill would be "severe" in Christchurch and "extreme" in Dunedin.

"Severe wind chill will stress livestock," MetService said.

The annual Lyttelton Festival of Lights street party has been cancelled due to weather.

The event planned for Friday night has been moved to June 28, although the festival's indoor events will run as planned.

Some school principals say they will close if snow falls and pupils and staff are unable to get to school safely.

Parents will be notified in the morning.

Supermarkets, bakeries and garages are reporting panic buying of supplies, including milk, bread and gas bottles.

Coupland's Bakeries sold out of bread and milk at its Rangiora store this morning but expected to receive more about 3pm.

''It's pretty crazy. Think earthquake - it's that busy,'' store assistant Anita Moffat said.

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Lincoln Challenge manager Peter McLean said the petrol station had been "very, very busy", with huge demand for LPG.

"People are panicking, which is a bit silly. I don't know where they're going to drive to."

Customers had also spoken of the high demand for gas heaters, he said.

"A couple of ladies came in saying they couldn't get a gas heater anywhere."

Yesterday, supermarkets throughout Christchurch saw an increase in customers after essentials such as milk, bread, canned food and batteries

St Martins New World sold out of bread last night but had restocked this morning.

Red Cross volunteers have been getting 7500 winter warmer packs ready to give out to vulnerable Cantabrians if the forecasted snow hits, while a portable emergency operations centre has been put on standby.

However, the big chill has not meant bad news for everyone - skifields such as Mt Cheeseman Ski Area are welcoming the extra snowfall. It expects 50cm of snow tomorrow and Friday.

WILL CHRISTCHURCH CENTRAL SEE SNOW?

The storm set to unleash its force on Canterbury contains some subtleties. The most significant of these is whether Christchurch City on the flat will be in for a major dumping of snow tomorrow.

It is touch and go.

Forecasters believe the deepest snow is likely above about 200 metres and on the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula and in inland parts of central and North Canterbury.

Just a degree change in temperature, or some slightly wonky data in the computer models, could see snow falling in central Christchurch tomorrow.

Blue Skies Weather forecaster Tony Trewinnard said Christchurch was right in the 100m to 200m-deep transition zone between rain and sleet at the bottom of that zone and snow at the top.

That made it extremely difficult to say whether the city would get stinging sleety rain or heavy snow.

You will need to go only 100m up Dyers Pass Rd in Cashmere or 5 to 10 kilometres north, west or south of the city to run into snow.

Friday is expected to be a touch colder, with snow showers expected down to sea level.

If rain or sleet predominates, further significant flooding is highly likely across Christchurch.

If heavy snow falls instead, that flooding will be delayed a few days until the snow begins to thaw.

Trewinnard said Christchurch could also have power cuts if snow brought down lines inland.

To sum up - tonight and tomorrow, expect foul weather, temperatures just a few degrees above zero at best, bitter wind chills, southerlies rising to gale force, horizontal sleet in Christchurch and heavy, drifting snow elsewhere above 200m.

Tomorrow night and Friday, there is a signal that it could become a little colder, bringing snow to all places, including flat parts of Christchurch, although it will break to flurries as the day goes on.

Friday night and Saturday morning could well be icy, with further snow flurries, clearing during the day.

This is likely to be a winter storm to remember.

BE PREPARED

Civil Defence yesterday urged people to stock up on emergency supplies and winter woollies, check their heating and prepare to stay indoors.


Tips for driving in winter conditions


Civil Defence staff are on standby to respond to any problems.

The Christchurch City Council met with emergency services and key agencies yesterday to prepare for the expected bad weather and an emergency operations centre will be set up this afternoon.

The centre will be ready to be activated overnight if needed and is expected to be running tomorrow morning if the snow arrives.

A Christchurch employment lawyer says the rules about paying employees who do not make it to work during a snow day are not black and white.

Duncan Cotterill's Sarah Townsend said there was no ''one size fits all'' solution to whether an employee could be forced to use their annual leave entitlement if they did not go to work after a heavy snowfall.

The Christchurch City Council says residents in the Akaroa Harbour, Pigeon Bay and Little River areas should use water sparingly for the next three days.

''Some water reserves are nearing critical levels as the prolonged inclement weather has and will continue to make the taking of water clean enough to treat from the flooded streams difficult,'' city water and waste contracts manager Tim Joyce said.

Meanwhile, farmers are hunkering down for the long haul.

Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury president Chris Allen said an advisory had been sent out warning farmers to be well prepared for snow.

"What we're doing is pretty much getting stock in the best part of the farm for shelter and access," he said.

If the snow lasted only three or four days, it would be "no big deal", Allen said, but if it stuck around for longer and the grass remained covered, farmers might run into trouble.

"The only concern is a new farmer to the area or to the South Island [not] knowing what actually happens in the area. The only advice I can give is, talk to your neighbours," he said.

OnGas spokeswoman Sandy Hodge said there had been no rush to refill gas bottles yet. "People might hang off until that first day, because they think that the forecast might be incorrect - and then they'll rush out and get it."

The Red Cross has set up an emergency operation centre, operating from 10am today, to co-ordinate 250 volunteers across the South Island.

Christchurch-based electricity lines company Orion is on standby to respond to any weather-related effectss on the network.

The network had been checked and 13 electricity generators - each capable of powering up to 200 homes - were ready if needed, chief executive Rob Jamieson said.

The northeast part of Christchurch would be most vulnerable to power cuts because the network was still being rebuilt after the earthquakes, he said.

ROAD SNOWFALL WARNINGS

MetService has issued several snow warnings for the South Island's alpine passes.

Light rain is expected to turn to snow on Porters Pass from this afternoon and up to 100 centimetres of snow could accumulate by Saturday morning. Between 40cm and 60cm is expected between 3pm today and 6pm tomorrow.

Light rain and sleet falling over Arthur's Pass today is expected to turn to snow about the summit this afternoon.

Snow is expected to continue falling through to Friday night, with up to 40cm likely to accumulate about the road, including 25cm between 5pm today and 6pm tomorrow.

On the Lewis Pass, rain is expected to turn to snow tonight, continuing through to Saturday morning. Up to 80cm is likely to accumulate about the road, including up to 30cm between 9pm today and 6pm tomorrow.

Light snow was expected around the Milford Road tunnel this morning, and up to 8cm is expected to accumulate above 400m by midnight.

Christchurch City Council transport and greenspace unit manager John Mackie said the council was readying itself for snow while continuing to tidy up from Monday's flooding.

"We are checking drains are clear and we have contractors briefed and on standby to respond to the snow if necessary. We are monitoring weather forecasts closely and will be ready if the snow arrives as predicted," he said.

- The Press

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