Winter storm 'crunch time' yet to come
Christchurch flights cancelledFAIRFAX REPORTERS
Domestic flights are being cancelled and delayed at Christchurch International Airport tonight.
Two Air New Zealand flights to Wellington and one to Dunedin are cancelled, while one to Napier is delayed.
See the airport's website for more information.
Dangerous winds have closed Wellington Airport to all flights this evening.
State Highway 1 has been closed between Blenheim and Kaikoura.
Marlborough District Council civil defence spokesman Mark Wheeler said the decision to close the highway was due to concerns about wind danger, excessive surface flooding, and a tree that has fallen across the road near Seddon.
Wheeler said police had been able to provide safe passage to people trapped on the highway by the tree.
Strong winds in Christchurch have damaged cars, lifted roofs and forced building debris to fall this afternoon.
All buses travelling out of Christchurch Central Station were forced to detour away from Tuam St due to falling building debris.
A police spokesman said fencing had also fallen down on Tuam St, damaging several cars.
The Waimakariri Civil Defence is keeping a close eye on rivers threatening to break near Rangiora.
Fernside School, near Rangiora, was being taken over by Civil Defence to act as a sector post as the nearby Cust and Dockey rivers could break their banks.
A Fire Service spokesman said the service had received over 50-weather related calls since midnight - mainly from the Leeston/ Southbridge area.
Calls increased this afternoon as the winds picked up, lifting roofs and sending debris across the city.
"In the last hour or two hours we've had six to seven calls to do with roofs lifting, in places like Riccarton, Barrington, Woolston," he said.
Firefighters were called to the Howzat Indoor Sports Centre in Riccarton about 2.45pm after part of the building's roof lifted.
Torrential rain flooded several Leeston homes and closed schools this morning.
The snow has so far avoided Christchurch but has fallen across Canterbury and the South Island, closing alpine passes and forcing some flights to be cancelled.
The West Coast has also had wild weather, with strong winds ripping off parts of the Whataroa general store roof in South Westland.
Power was cut in Halswell, Ladbrooks and Prebbleton for 30 minutes this afternoon because of a line fault.
Snowstorms battering large areas of the country are among the worst in the past third of a century for some places.
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research principal scientist Mike Revell said the storm would be "up there with the one or two worst snow events" he was aware of since becoming a meteorologist in 1976.
For inland parts of North Canterbury, Niwa models were predicting 50 to 100 centimetres of snow would fall, with considerably less falling towards the coast.
Unfortunately, the record of snow measurements in areas where people lived was sparse, Revell said.
"The trouble is we make so few snow measurements that it's really anecdotal."
MetService spokesman Daniel Corbett warned the "crunch time" in the three-day-plus storm would be from this afternoon until about noon tomorrow.
The Mt Hutt skifield has reported a ''quite unprecedented'' 1 metre of snow falling in 20 hours.
Ski area manager James McKenzie said it was the most snow the field had seen in a short period and included a remarkable 7cm falling in one hour. A total of 2m was expected to fall by the weekend.
''It is snowing so hard that we can't keep the access roads safe or the mountain safe through avalanche risk,'' he said.
Avalanche controllers were setting off rockets to protect the base lodge and clear the roads.
McKenzie hoped the storm would settle so the field could open for the weekend.
''It means also that the triple chair below the base area will open as well,'' he said.
Rain has proved more of an issue than snow in Leeston where a creek bed has burst its banks, flooding about eight homes and sending volunteer firefighters to their aid with sandbags.
Streets in the town were flooded and the sewerage system has been damaged, forcing Leeston School and Ellesmere College to close for the day.
Ellesmere College willl remain closed on Friday, the school said.
A Selwyn District Council spokeswoman said Leeston and Doyleston residents were asked to minimise toilet flushing and water usage after heavy rain overnight affected the towns' sewerage systems.
Flooding had also been reported in Mosgiel, Port Chalmers and Ashburton.
Power has been cut in several places including Naseby in Central Otago, Middlemarch, and Fairlie in Canterbury.
Long-time Naseby resident Stuart Hore said the snowfall there was one of the heaviest he'd seen in his 75 years. Snow started to fall yesterday evening, and by mid-morning today it was around 43cm deep and still snowing, he said.
STORM 'CRUNCH TIME' YET TO COME
If you think it's all over, don't be fooled. The winter brute is just taking a breather before pouncing in more dramatic fashion.
Forecasters are keeping an eye on a developing low-pressure centre off Kaikoura that will wind things up with a vengeance over the next 24 hours.
As it develops, a biting southeasterly wind will increase up the Canterbury coast to gale force in places, bringing heavy rain and sleet to areas below about 200 metres and deep snow above that level in the form of blizzards.
Corbett said the "crunch time" would be from this afternoon until about noon tomorrow.
After that, the polar wind was expected to ease slowly, but heavy snow showers were likely down to near sea level.
"You could see some snow right down on the ground in Christchurch, but we mustn't forget about the amounts of rain that could fall - 60 to 90 millimetres - and what that could do to those places nearer the coast," he said.
Snow, sleet and rain are forecast to continue through Saturday.
"Keep an eye on the warnings for details over the next couple of days," Corbett said.
Marlborough may be in for a pounding, with up to 175mm of rain forecast.
Up to 34 centimetres of snow fell overnight in the Lake Heron area, which is 700m above sea level.
Darfield had about 3cm of snow, while other parts of the Canterbury Plains above 400m had up to 5cm.
One person reported 4cm to 5cm of snow above 500m near Kaikoura.
The Canterbury Weather Updates Facebook page has reported snow falling overnight across Mid and North Canterbury, including Ashburton, Fairlie, Oxford, Darfield, Loburn and Waiau.
A power cut affected homes in the Fairlie and Burkes Pass areas this morning.
Alpine Energy corporate services manager Michael Boorer said power was cut to about 900 homes after a ''weather-related'' fault with the 33kV powerline between Albury and Fairlie in the Mackenzie District about 5.47am.
It was not known how long the power would be out, but crews were busy trying to fix the problem, he said.
Mainpower engineering manager Peter Hurford said power had been cut to about 50 homes around Cust and 50 around Parnassus about 5am.
The outages had been caused by snow buildup on powerlines but should have been restored to all homes by 8.15am.
Hurford advised people to stay away from any lines that fall on the ground during the forecast snowstorm.
"They're definitely not safe, so don't treat them as dead."
The NZ Transport Agency said the Lewis Pass, Porters Pass, Lindis Pass and Burkes Pass were closed by snow.
Other highways closed included State Highway 85 from Omakau to Palmerston, SH87 from Keyburn to Outram, SH80 from Glentanner to Mt Cook, and SH6 and 97 from Kingston to Lumsden and Five Rivers to Mossburn.
Early-morning flights from Invercargill to Wellington and Christchurch were cancelled, as were two morning flights between Dunedin and Wellington, and a flight from Queenstown to Christchurch.
Christchurch Airport chief operating officer Andy Lester said airport machinery was ready to clear runways, and the airport terminal would remain open through any bad weather.
Mt Cook Airline has suspended flights of its turboprop ATR planes into and out of Queenstown Airport.
Jet services by parent company Air New Zealand were continuing to operate, Air New Zealand said.
OFFICIALS READY FOR STORM
Christchurch Civil Defence staff are on standby to respond to any problems caused by the forecast snow.
The Christchurch City Council met emergency services and key agencies on Tuesday to prepare for the expected bad weather, and an emergency operations centre was expected to be running today.
City water and waste contracts manager Tim Joyce said residents in the Akaroa Harbour, Pigeon Bay and Little River areas should use water sparingly for the next few 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," he said.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said construction companies had volunteered to provide staff to work alongside Civil Defence and the council to respond to any emergency work created by the snowstorm.
The forecast bad weather has also seen the postponement of the annual Lyttelton Festival of Lights Street Party to June 28, but indoor events would run as normal.
- The Press