Wintry blast on the way

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2012

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An icy chill is expected to descend on Waikato today but it comes lined with "white gold".

The ski slopes of Mt Ruapehu were covered with snow yesterday after the first fall of the year – and it's expected to keep coming until Saturday as overnight temperatures plummet.

Gale-force winds from the Southern Ocean near Antarctica are being pushed north by a large low-pressure system that has been clogging skies and soaking roads over the last few days.

Snow was falling on the mountain yesterday down to 1200 metres, and is expected to come down as low as 800m today.

Mt Ruapehu ski area manager Steve McGill says preparations are underway for the ski season, which is due to open on June 16 at Turoa, and June 23 at Whakapapa. The dump was a "glorious sight", he said.

"Winter is certainly upon us. At Turoa it is snowing to the 13-kilometre barrier and the road is now closed, and at Whakapapa it is snowing to Scoria Flat and the road is restricted."

He said staff were "amped" for winter and the snow was a "glorious sight for skiers and boarders".

MetService is forecasting the winds of up to 40kmh to switch from a westerly to a frigid southwesterly, which will be laced with heavy showers and possible thunder.

Temperatures in Hamilton, Te Kuiti and Taumaranui got up to around 15 degrees Celsius yesterday with overnight lows near 8C. Today, however, the high could reach 14C, but the overnight lows are tipped to plummet to zero in some areas.

Snow is expected to fall to 300m in the lower South Island.

MetService meteorologist Stephen Glassey said wind chill would be a factor and it would bite pedestrians and others venturing outdoors.

On Monday night a small tornado tore through the Bay of Plenty town of Papamoa damaging several homes.

The tornado twisted through Longview Dr on the outskirts of Tauranga at 8.30pm, destroying the roofs of six homes, a Fire Service spokesman said.

Tiles were ripped off roofs but that was the extent of the damage, the spokesman said. Three fire trucks attended, and staff spent an hour helping home owners secure their roofs.

The tornado was probably a result of the thunderstorms which lashed the upper North Island yesterday evening, MetService forecaster Andy Downs said.

"We're not surprised. They tend to be very localised and short lived.

"We put out a watch warning about the possibility of severe thunderstorms producing small tornadoes and strong wind gusts."

A waterspout was also seen earlier in the day off the Taranaki coast.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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