Short, sharp winter snap
Bitter southwesterlies from the Southern Ocean are predicted to storm over the country today bringing snow to low levels, treacherous road conditions and possibly a dusting of snow to Waikato's highest peaks.
Yesterday's high of 17 degrees Celsius in Hamilton will barely make double figures today and the mercury could drop to freezing point tonight.
Further south at Taumarunui and Taupo the temperature will reach a dismal 8C then plummet to -2C tonight with frosts and icy road conditions predicted in coming days.
Police warned motorists to check their tyre tread and take care on the roads, especially during early mornings when ice can make driving treacherous.
MetService media meteorologist Daniel Corbett said the "ugly looking" weather system comes with "teeth" and it will feel "raw".
"It's a short, sharp taste of winter across much of New Zealand," he said.
Snow was expected to drop to 600m around the central plateau today and Mr Corbett wouldn't be surprised to see the summit of Pirongia, at 959m, with a dusting of the white stuff.
Localised hail and small clumps of ice known as graupel could also fall.
"This is the coldest outbreak so far this year," he said.
"You're going to see some good overnight frosts which won't be good for farmers because I know they're keen to keep the grass growing."
Mr Corbett said the storm was expected to kick-in from the southwest last night and carry through today bringing with it squally showers, some of them thundery.
"It's some of those you'll have to watch out for, because the snow level will be dropping. The Desert Road should be seeing snow and across parts of your neck of the woods it could technically be down to 500-600m."
Some of the heavy, squally thunderstorms that come through may give a quick coating, in some places, of soft hail, Mr Corbett said.
"It almost looks like snow but it's little lumps of ice. That will be more localised but it's a sign that cold air is being dragged down from aloft."
After months of drought conditions, the central North Island was expecting its first big dump of snow last night. There have been two falls in the past week, but last night's was due to be the heaviest.
The southwest blast was forecast to bring snow down to 800 metres - halfway down the Mountain Rd from Ohakune to the Turoa skifield.
"It feels like we are going to have a fantastic winter," Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Turoa communications manager Annah Dowsett said.
The last time the region had a dry summer, in 2008, the mountain enjoyed a 5-metre snow base during the winter. "The two snowfalls last week were quite decent and the snow has hung around, but this is the first really heavy fall."
Snowguns were in place to begin snowmaking on both Turoa and Whakapapa skifields when the temperature dropped below zero.
Manager of Pointons Ski Shop at Taupo, Richard Job, said the chilly blast marks the beginning of winter and it should provide a positive start to the snow season with Whakapapa and Turoa opening days just weeks away.
"Hopefully this is the start of a good winter - hopefully it's the turning point."
Snow had yet to fall on the Desert Road early last night but state highway officials were watching developments closely.
MetService has also issued a gale warning for Raglan, the Hauraki Gulf and Colville. Southwesterlies of 40 knots are predicted to reach 65 knots during squalls this morning. Heavy swells of up to six metres have also been pounding the west coast.
But the dramatic blast from the south will be short lived. The wind and rain should calm down tonight leaving clear, cool skies on Wednesday. Come Thursday and the mercury will reach back into the mid-teens. firstname.lastname@example.org