'Windy old beast' to bring heavy rain

The big dry afflicting the upper half of the North Island could be about to end, thanks to Cyclone Lusi.

"It's got a good lump of rain with it," MetService meteorologist Daniel Corbett said today.

Lusi reached a category-one storm level near Vanuatu this morning as it sucked in power from the Pacific Ocean, that is at a bath-like 30 degrees Celsius in the region.

Various weather forecasting models have Lusi developing into a powerful category-three cyclone and swinging south, straight toward New Zealand.

Corbett said it would start to lose strength in the cooler waters near New Zealand, but would still pack a punch.

"It will be a windy old beast," he said.

Heavy tropical rains are expected late Friday and Saturday over dry Northland and Auckland, and depending on its course, Waikato is in for a dumping too.

"There is always the danger of so much rain so quickly causing flooding," Corbett said.

Late-season cyclones have been deadly in New Zealand in the past.

On April 10, 1968, Cyclone Giselle slammed into Wellington, sinking the inter-island ferry Wahine with the loss of 52 lives.

On March 8, 1988, Cyclone Bola produced some of the heaviest rainfalls ever recorded in New Zealand and caused extensive destruction on the North Island's East Coast.