NZ's biggest snowstorms: This polar blast has a lot to live up to

Snow down Timaru's Cain St in the damaging 2006 storms.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Snow down Timaru's Cain St in the damaging 2006 storms.

The South Island is facing what's being described as the "most significant snowstorm in recent years" as a polar blast comes up from the south.

Forecasters say snow could fall to sea level in parts of Canterbury this week thanks to high moisture levels and a prolonged period of low temperatures.

While snow down to sea level wasn't an everyday occurrence, its not the first time the garden city has woken to a blanket of snow.

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As Cantabrians and South Islanders brace for the icy blast, we take a look back at historic snow events across the country.

READ MORE:
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South Island plunges well below freezing

EARLY YEARS:

MetService

The most significant snowstorm in recent years is on its way.

Christchurch Libraries snow days data shows Christchurch city received a significant dumping of snow in 1862, 1895 and 1918.

The 1918 event caused transport issues, with the disruption of trams.

On July 4, 1908, New Zealand was hit by a winter storm that caused gales in Auckland, snow in inland Canterbury and Otago, and heavy rain and flooding in Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago. The Taieri Plain was extensively flooded and there was a huge snowfall in Naseby, according to Niwa historic weather event data.

A snow storm in Christchurch city in 1918 stopped the trams from working.
TRANSPRESSNZ.COM

A snow storm in Christchurch city in 1918 stopped the trams from working.

The snowfall in Canterbury downed all east coast telegraph wires between Waiau and Kaikoura. There was also snow in Ashburton backcountry areas.

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Less than two weeks later, another snowstorm hit the South Island, leading to significant stock losses near Burke's Pass in South Canterbury. The thawing snow also caused flooding in some areas.

1992 - THE BIG SNOW:

The Avon River banks covered in snow in Christchurch on July 19, 1945.
AUCKL:AND STAR ARCHIVE COLLECTION

The Avon River banks covered in snow in Christchurch on July 19, 1945.

A million sheep died when the heaviest snowfall for 30 years hit Canterbury in late-August 1992 - the lambing season. Snow started falling in the evening of August 27. It snowed down to sea level and by mid-morning the next day, power was out through much of the region.

Buildings were damaged in Christchurch, and the city was flooded when the snow thawed.

1997 - SNOW HAVOC:

In August, snow fell in eastern parts of the country, causing havoc on the roads, according to Niwa data.

In northern Hawke's Bay, heavy rain and snow set-in on August 22 and settled to unusually low levels (about 150 metres) on hills and farms near Wairoa.  There was some light snow fall down to sea level.

It was the area's heaviest snowstorm in 50 years and led to large stock losses in the area.

Then in October, northwesterly storm and cold snap brought snow down to 300m in Canterbury and closed the Desert Road in the North Island on October 6 and 7.

2001 - TEMP DROPS TO -15C:

In May, a snow storm occurred in the South Island and caused the Desert Road in the North Island to be closed. The snowfall started on May 20 and lasted five days.

In the South Island, snow and ice spread from Tasman down to Southland. 

Temperatures dropped down to a chilly minus 15 degrees Celsius at Mt Robert in the Nelson Lakes region. 

On the West Coast, snowfalls up to 2.5 centimetres deep were measured at Okarito, an event unheard of in the area.

The snow also closed Canterbury and Southland  roads and fell to sea level in Southland and Otago. Otago high country recorded a snow depth of over 20cm.

 

Meanwhile, snowfall in Dunedin on May 24 was the heaviest May snowfall in 13 years, according to Niwa records.

The Caitlins had snowfall of 5cm and a Nightcaps shopkeeper said it was probably the most significant snowfall in the area in seven years.

2002 - SNOW 30CM DEEP:

In July 2002, a snowstorm and heavy rain led to havoc on the roads, with at least two fatalities and other injuries.

The snowfall was the deepest in Waiouru in central-North Island. In some places the snow was 30cm deep.

About 30 motorists were stranded on the Desert Rd and had to be rescued by the army. They were offered accommodation at the local marae for the night.

2003 - SNOW WORST IN 40 YEARS:

In July, a cold front brought snow to the Central North Island and eastern South Island, blocking roads, closing schools and cutting power to some places. 

Heavy snow settled down to 150m to 500m in the central and eastern-North Island on July 5.

The South Island is in for a heavy dumping of snow - possibly one for the record books. In anticipation, we take a look ...
BARRY HARCOURT/STUFF

The South Island is in for a heavy dumping of snow - possibly one for the record books. In anticipation, we take a look back at our most significant historic snowfalls.

The snowstorm in the central and eastern North Island was the worst in 40 years.

2006 - 'THE BIG SNOW' CAUSES DAMAGE:

A snowstorm in June 2006, saw Ashburton's greatest snowfall on record (38cm) and the heaviest snowfall in Timaru since 1946.

Snow at Burke's Pass, near Tekapo, in 2003.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Snow at Burke's Pass, near Tekapo, in 2003.

Snow fell across Canterbury at extreme depths in some places, according to a Niwa preliminary analysis.

While the snow depth was not significant by inland South Island standards, the fall closed roads and cut power.

It became known as the "big snow".

2006 became known as the 'big snow'.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF

2006 became known as the 'big snow'.

2009 - COLD MAY:

A storm hit New Zealand in May, 2009. Hail and heavy rain caused flooding in the North island, particularly in Bay of Plenty.

Meanwhile in the South Island, snow fell across Canterbury, Otago and Southland on May 10.

The snow fell to 300m on Banks Peninsula, the higher Canterbury Plains, the foothills and in parts of inland South Canterbury.

Arthur's Pass , Fairlie, Geraldine, Methven and Mt Cook also all got a dumping of snow.

The white stuff settled on the foothills around Queenstown and the Otago skifields were covered in snow.  About 50cm fell at Mt Hutt skifield and 55cm at the Remarkables ski area.

Later that month, another front hit the country bringing further snow to the South Island and a dumping of snow to the North Island.

The cold snap brought cold temperatures, hail and ice to parts of the North Island, with snow in the central-North Island. Snow down to 200m and high winds were experienced in the South Island. Four people were injured and one killed in traffic accidents on icy roads and two boys had hypothermia when they were rescued from the snow in the Ruahine Ranges.

The white stuff blanketed Bay of Plenty's Mt Tarawera and Rotorua's Mt Ngongotaha on May 21.

2011 - RECORD-BREAKING SNOW:

In July 2011, widespread snow in both islands caused disruption, with many roads closed, many flights to South Island airports were cancelled.

Christchurch Airport recorded its second-coldest day on July 25, when temperatures ranged between -1C and 5C.

A Nasa satellite image of the snow in the South Island in 2006.
NASA

A Nasa satellite image of the snow in the South Island in 2006.

Up to 20cm of snow fell in the city.

Meanwhile, about 2000 residents in Christchurch and central Canterbury lost power because of the snow building up on power lines.

In the North Island, snow fell to sea level in Wellington and Otaki, actually settling on the beach.

The Rimutaka Hill Rd was closed due to snow in 2011.
PHIL REID/STUFF

The Rimutaka Hill Rd was closed due to snow in 2011.

Central parts of the capital, including Lambton Quay and The Terrace also had snow on the ground. Up to 20cm fell on Rimutaka Hill.

Manawatu, Taihape, Hawke's Bay and Taupo also experienced snow. A Taupo resident said it was the first time in 17 years snow had fallen at Acacia Bay.

The lower-South Island was also covered in snow.

Office workers on Lambton Quay enjoying the snow that fell across the city in an "unprecedented" storm in 2011.
DANIEL WYLIE/SUPPLIED

Office workers on Lambton Quay enjoying the snow that fell across the city in an "unprecedented" storm in 2011.

And in August, snow fell for four days across the country, including down to sea level in Wellington.

The significant snowfall event saw roads closed through the central North Island, the Napier-Taupo highway, the Rimutaka Hill Road, SH1 between Kaikoura and Christchurch, and numerous roads throughout Otago were closed; there were no mail deliveries in much of the lower North Island, Otago and Southland.

As much as 25cm fell in Christchurch, with flurries down to sea level in Canterbury.

People crossing The Terrace, Wellington City in the snow in 2011.
ANDREW GORRIE/STUFF

People crossing The Terrace, Wellington City in the snow in 2011.

As much as a metre of snow fell at Banks Peninsula, and 50cm on Port Hills.

The storm also closed Dunedin's northern motorway.

The August 2011 snowfall in Wellington was labelled as "unprecedented" and the coldest snap to hit the city in living memory.

The snow that fell in Wellington in 2011 was described as "once in a lifetime".
SUPPLIED

The snow that fell in Wellington in 2011 was described as "once in a lifetime".

MetService described the storm as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that affected the entire country.

2012 - COLDEST DAY ON RECORD: 



June 6, 2012 was hailed as Christchurch's coldest day on record, with the maximum temperature for the day reaching a paltry 0.4C.
Christchurch was blanketed in snow for the second time in three weeks in August 2011.
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

Christchurch was blanketed in snow for the second time in three weeks in August 2011.

The bone-chilling day broke a 130-year record.

The previous lowest recorded daily maximum temperature in the city was 1.2C measured in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on July 22, 1918.

On the day, snow fell in Hagley Park, at Christchurch Airport, and on the field at AMI Stadium.

June 6, 2012 was hailed as Christchurch's coldest day on record.
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

June 6, 2012 was hailed as Christchurch's coldest day on record.

2013 - ANOTHER SNOW DAY FOR CHRISTCHURCH:

In June 2013, the city was once again covered in snow.

A storm swept through the region, leading to snow and heavy rain that caused flooding.

Snow covers Hanmer Springs in 2013.
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF

Snow covers Hanmer Springs in 2013.

The extreme weather brought down powerlines, trees and cut water supplies to some areas.

2017 - 'MOST SIGNIFICANT SNOWSTORM IN RECENT YEARS':

Forecasters predict snow could fall to sea level in parts of Canterbury as "one of the most significant snowstorms in recent years" bears down on the South Island.

Sheep look for grass on Clayton Rd near Lake Opuha in June, 2013.
STUFF

Sheep look for grass on Clayton Rd near Lake Opuha in June, 2013.

Deceivingly mild conditions on Monday would be replaced by a front moving northeast onto the mainland on Tuesday, bringing a cold southerly with it.

After a weekend of ice-related crashes, Canterbury Weather Updates (CWU) on Monday said a "rare snow event" was coming, with snow showers in Christchurch "a real chance".

Snow blankets Christchurch in 2013.
STUFF

Snow blankets Christchurch in 2013.

 - Stuff

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