A snowy disruption

Snow disrupts travel, creates wintry mess around Canterbury District

Last updated 07:16 06/06/2012
snow landscape
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ

Snow blanketed the South Canterbury back country overnight. Mt Horrible and the Hunters Hills behind Timaru received a dusting, with heavier snow settling in the Two Thumb Range behind Fairlie and into the Mackenzie Basin.

fairlie snow standard
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ
Courtney O'Neill, 4, of Fairlie braves this morning's snow and cold to check the letterbox.

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LATEST: The South Island has been lashed by heavy snow that's closed schools and roads and caused delays at Christchurch Airport.

Poor driving conditions closed State Highway Eight from Fairlie to Twizel this morning, but Twizel police reported it was open by about 9:45am.

The highway remains slippery and could freeze over as temperatures drop later today, police said. Drivers should continue to use caution and drive to the conditions.

Snow also closed the Lewis Pass and State Highway 73 through Porters and Arthurs passes.

St John reported only one snow-related incident in the Canterbury District as of 11am. A teenage girl in Rangiora fell and was taken to Christchurch Hospital with possible back injuries, district operations manager Tony Dowell said.

The public should take care while driving and check that friends and neighbours, particularly the elderly, have sufficient heat in these cold conditions, he said.

Federated Farmers North Otago high-country chairman Simon Williamson says weather conditions are fine and stock has not been affected.

''Things are alright; we've had an inch of snow; there doesn't seem to be much snow at all,'' he said. ''We've been pretty lucky; it's sort of gone around us.''

Twizel Area School secretary Val MacMillan said it was "business as usual" today, despite the snow.

"We got a bit of a flurry, but nothing major. We're a hardy bunch here, although there were a few hopeful students who rang and asked whether we were going to be closed," she said.

Mackenzie District Council staff said Mackenzie College was closed, along with Fairlie Primary and St Joseph's Primary, while the school buses in Fairlie were also out of action.

Mt Dobson Ski Area owner and operator Peter Foote said Fairlie had received about 12 centimetres of snow.

"It's disappeared pretty quick because the ground is not frozen; it may be around buildings in the shade for some time," he said. "We got 18 centimetres up on the mountain, which is not as much as what we had hoped for."

''Every bit of snow counts; it will blow around and fill the holes.''

Ohau Skifield manager Mike Neilson said 20 centimetres of snow had fallen on the field.

''It's looking good; we're still scheduled to open 23 June.''

MetService forecaster Derek Holland said snow was falling in Christchurch and across Canterbury, with up to 15cm expected in the city by mid-afternoon. Snow has fallen as far north as Kaikoura.

Up to 40cm of snow was expected in parts of Canterbury higher than 300m above sea level, and up to 60cm could fall over Banks Peninsula.

The snow should clear in South Canterbury by mid-afternoon and by tonight in Mid and North Canterbury.

TRAVEL DISRUPTED

Christchurch Airport is open, but the snow has caused some cancellations and delays, a spokeswoman said.

Snow was settling despite the runways being regularly cleared, and passengers were advised to check the status of their flights with airlines.

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Drivers have been warned to take care on all alpine passes.

For traffic to Milford Sound, the road is closed from the Lower Hollyford turnoff to the Cavern. Chains must be carried from the Cavern to Milford Sound.

The New Zealand Transport Agency told Radio New Zealand that some vehicles had become stuck in Lewis Pass overnight.

Between 30cm and 50cm of snow is expected to fall in Lewis Pass up until 9pm tonight, and between 40cm and 60cm of snow is expected to fall in Porters Pass by midnight. Up to 80cm of snow is expected in Arthurs Pass by 9pm tonight.

Canterbury road policing manager Inspector Al Stewart said drivers should consider using alternative transport or delaying non-essential travel.

"During last year's snow and ice most people took these messages on board and adjusted their driving to the conditions, or stayed off the roads, which resulted in a lower-than-average crash rate."

High winds meant care was needed by high sided vehicles on State Highway 6 on the West Coast between Harihari and Haast. Police said some trees had been blown over in the area.

MAIL IMPACT

Mail delivery has been disrupted across Canterbury and the West Coast due to the severe weather conditions, New Zealand Post said.

Delivery had been suspended in Greymouth and its outlying areas, and in Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Ashburton and Christchurch.

Delays were also expected to mail deliveries in Westport, Gore and Balclutha.

NZ Post spokesperson Jaimee Burke said the company regretted any inconvenience, but the safety of posties was paramount.

Staff would work hard to ensure affected mail affected was promptly delivered when conditions improved.

FLOODING HITS WEST COAST

Several houses on the West Coast are being sandbagged to protect them from rising floodwaters.

A Fire Service spokesman said five houses in Murchison, near State Highway 6, were being sandbagged.

Meanwhile, firefighters were keeping an eye on flooding in Cobden, Greymouth and Runanga.

State Highway 6 crossing from the West Coast into Tasman was closed because of flooding.

POWER CUT TO THOUSANDS OF HOMES

Heavy snow in North Canterbury has cut power to thousands of homes.

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 most of the Kaikoura area, but many homes further south and inland were still without electricity, including homes in Hawarden, Culverden and Hanmer.

Staff were working on restoring power as quickly as possible, but some homes could be without power for up to a day, Hurford said.

STAR GAZERS HIT

A blanket of white is covering the land around the Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo, and a blanket of clouds has been obscuring the sun but there is still some hope it may be possible to see the Transit of Venus from the observatory.

Around 9am resident superintendent Alan Gilmore said blue patches were starting to appear among the clouds.

"It's looking better than it was an hour ago."

Technician-observer Pam Kilmartin said the amount of snow on the ground at the top of Mt John  this morning ranged between nothing and 10cm, with a few drifts which were a bit deeper.

It was "quite white" across the countryside around the observatory early this morning but the snow, which had started sometime overnight, was no longer falling.

It was cloudy but she was clinging to some hope there could be some opportunity during the day to see the transit - which should not be viewed with the naked eye.

"We aren't despairing yet. We just need a glimpse of sun through the clouds," Kilmartin said.

Today's transit, when Venus passes across the face of the sun, will start about 10.15am and be finished by 4.43pm. The next transit will not be until 2117.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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