Conditions ease after polar blast slams South

The polar blast that pounded the South has largely moved through, after roads were closed, schools delayed and flights affected by the snow and winds.

Almost all the southern highways, including Dunedin's Northern Motorway, are open now after heavy snow left many closed overnight and for much of this morning.

The blast is now hitting further north, and Wellington looks set to cop the worst of it, with monster waves lashing the coast and snow expected in the hills this afternoon and evening.

A NZ Transport Agency spokeswoman confirmed just before 11am the highway between Dunedin and Waitati (State Highway 1) was now open.

By 3pm all but one (SH87 Outram-Kyeburn) of the South's highways had reopened, but motorists were still advised to take care owing to wintry conditions. 

A MetService meteorologist said the winds and snow would be easing off from this afternoon, but low temperatures would linger overnight.

Road users would need to be careful as snow melted, as ice could be more dangerous than snow, she said.

On the east coast, waves were reaching 8m, prompting a warning for people to stay away from the coast.

Flights affected 

Flights were affected at airports in the South, but by late morning most services from Dunedin and Invercargill were running as scheduled. Queenstown flights continued to be affected into the afternoon. 

Queenstown Airport general manager, operations and safety, Mike Clay said the first flight from Auckland landed this morning after staff worked through the night to clear the runway, roads and footpath near the terminal.

Mr Clay said flights could still be delayed or cancelled today and passengers should double-check with their airline.

Harry (3) and Ada Christie (5) in Maryhill, Dunedin this morning rugged up to the hilt for kindy and school on a snowy Tuesday morning. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Harry (3) and Ada Christie (5) in Maryhill, Dunedin this morning rugged up to the hilt for kindy and school on a snowy Tuesday morning. Photo: Christine O'Connor

Meanwhile,  many schools in the South had a late start owing to the snow, and several closed for the day.

The last two days also brought widespread power interruptions and network disturbances.

PowerNet's chief operating officer Justin Peterson this afternoon said the company had been extremely busy with outages since Monday morning and were still working to restore all affected customers.

Much of the region experienced snowfall overnight, causing several state highways to close, and severe gales were forecast to follow.

Wind would continue today with the potential for severe gales, but conditions should begin to ease tomorrow, forecasters said earlier. It was expected snow would fall to as low as 100m and the wind would be "bitterly cold".

The weather caused disruptions in the South yesterday, with flights affected, and roads and schools closed as the polar blast swept through. Snow began to fall in parts of Dunedin from 3pm.

Snow settled in suburbs throughout Dunedin last night, including in the Town Belt, before it was washed away by rain. Several centimetres of snow was still on the ground in the hill suburbs late this morning, which contractors then cleared.

MetService had several severe weather watches and warning still in place for today.

A heavy snow watch was in place for Fiordland, south of Charles Sound. 

A strong wind watch was in place for most of the South, including North Otago, Dunedin, Clutha, Southland about and south of Mossburn and Stewart Island.

The forecast for Dunedin today is showers, snow to 100m and possible squally thunderstorms before dawn, becoming isolated by afternoon with fine spells. Strong southwest, gale gusting 100 km/h in exposed places at first.

A Fulton Hogan truck ploughs snow in Taieri Rd this morning. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A Fulton Hogan truck ploughs snow in Taieri Rd this morning. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Queenstown and Central Otago

The Queenstown Lakes District Council advised there was snow throughout the Wakatipu Basin and driving conditions were "extreme", but conditions eased throughout the day.

The Crown Range Road, linking Queenstown with Wanaka, was set to reopen at 1.30pm. Chains may be required in certain sections, the QLDC advised.

Queenstown was blanketed in snow at ground level, with Ritchies bus operator having to run a 4x4 shuttle service along the steep Fernhill Rd.

Orbus Queenstown posted on social media to say all routes were running by mid-morning, if slightly delayed and some would be using the 4x4 vehicles.

Queenstown was covered in snow this morning. Photo: Supplied
Queenstown was covered in snow this morning. Photo: Supplied

Grit trucks were out and snow ploughs were sent about the region to clear state highways and alpine roads.

"If you must drive today, here's the deal: snow chains, go slow, keep a safe following distance," the QLDC said.

The Fernhill suburb of Queenstown was covered in a 4-6cm dusting, making travel difficult on the hills.

A view from Fernhill of Queenstown covered in snow this morning. Photo: Matthew Mckew
A view of Queenstown covered in snow this morning from Fernhill. Photo: Matthew Mckew

Some children could be seen tobogganing, while adults waited for Ritchies all wheel drive minibus to safely navigate them to the bottom of Fernhill Rd, so they could get to work.

The Central Otago District Council said the Maniototo and Manuherkia areas were open with caution advised as ice and grit were both present.

"Please reduce your speeds and drive to the conditions. Teams are still working in these areas gritting."

The Clyde War Memorial on Matau St as the sun breaks on the snow-covered Cairnmuir Range above Lake Dunstan. Photo: Jared Morgan
The Clyde War Memorial on Matau St as the sun breaks on the snow-covered Cairnmuir Range above Lake Dunstan. Photo: Jared Morgan

“We are hopeful that snow conditions will ease today,” Waka Kotahi journey manager Tresca Forrester said.

”However, wind chill is keeping temperatures very low and ice may continue in many places today and overnight to Wednesday.

Snow in Earnscleugh this morning. Photo: Mary-Jo Tohill
Snow in Earnscleugh this morning. Photo: Mary-Jo Tohill

“Please watch your following distances, slow down, turn your lights on and expect ice on some bridge decks and areas that get little sunlight.  Grit trucks will be busy, expect to see snow ploughs and in some places chains may be needed.”

School cancellations/delays

SCHOOLS

  • Brockville School CLOSED
  • Halfway Bush School CLOSED
  • Waikouaiti School CLOSED
  • Wakari School CLOSED

SCHOOLS WITH 10AM STARTS

  • Otago Girls High School
  • Bradford School
  • Dunedin North Intermediate
  • St Mary's Mosgiel
  • Sarah Cohen School
  • Balmacewen Intermediate
  • Fairfield School
  • Pine Hill School
  • Port Chalmers School
  • Concord School
  • St Leonards School
  • Maori Hill School
  • Liberton Christian School
  • Kavanagh College
  • St Brigids School
  • Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti
  • St Marys School, Mosgiel
  • Waihola District School
  • St Josephs School, Port Chalmers
  • Columba College 10:50AM START

KINDYS/PRE-SCHOOLS

  • Wakari, Halfway Bush & Brockville Kindergartens CLOSED
  • All other Dunedin Kindergartens are a 10am start

10AM STARTS

  • St Clair Corner Early Learning Centre & Infants and Toddlers
  • Montessori House Atelier, Casa, Casita & Nido dei Bambini
  • Little Wonders St Kilda
  • Arthur Burns Preschool
  • Little Rock Preschool Brighton
  • Family Ties Educare in Musselburgh, Macandrew Bay & Pine Hill
  • Learning Links Montessori
  • OUCA Centres
  • Kiddies Campus in York Place

Yesterday's events 

By 9pm on Monday, Dunedin's Northern Motorway was closed, with road users told to turn back to the city. A police spokeswoman said they were considering closing other hillside roads.

Power outages caused by the weather affected the Catlins and West Otago areas last night.

Widespread snow fell throughout the day in Southland, particularly affecting northern and western areas.

There were falls in Queenstown, Balclutha, Naseby, Ranfurly and Lawrence, with early flurries in some of Dunedin’s hill suburbs.

Clockwise from top: Cattle stand with their backs to the wind as snow blankets awinter crop beside Mt Gowrie Rd near Clarks Junction; State Highway 87 covered with snow near Clarks Junction; Andrew Richards feeds his flock of sheep at Strathview Station n
Clockwise from top: Cattle stand with their backs to the wind as snow blankets awinter crop beside Mt Gowrie Rd near Clarks Junction; State Highway 87 covered with snow near Clarks Junction; Andrew Richards feeds his flock of sheep at Strathview Station near Hindon; a snow plough clears ice and snow fromSH87. PHOTOS: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Ski fields welcome wintry blast

Queenstown Lakes District skifields welcomed the blast of winter weather, which allowed them to open or extend available snow terrain. Cardrona was closed yesterday due to the storm and strong winds.

NZSki communications and media relations manager Libby Baron said 17cm fell in 24 hours at The Remarkables.

A staged opening at Coronet Peak was still scheduled for tomorrow.

The Snow Farm was in a holding pattern waiting for enough snow to open trails.

Snow settled between Outram and Middlemarch and around the higher passes.

State Highway 87 (Outram-Kyeburn) was closed yesterday and the Milford Rd (SH94) and the Crown Range Rd were closed overnight, the latter scheduled to reopen at 7am today, with chains to be carried.

In Central Otago, Danseys Pass Rd and Moa Flat Rd were closed due to snow and ice.

Some Southland schools closed for the day, including Northern Southland College, Lumsden School, Balfour Primary School and Mossburn Primary School. Lee Stream School in Otago was closed.

Wind caused serious disruption with yesterday’s Air New Zealand flights in and out of Invercargill Airport cancelled. Some Dunedin and Queenstown services were also affected.

Niwa forecasting and media principal scientist Chris Brandolino said “a big punch of cold air” coming off the ice from deep in the polar region hit the country.

Wind chills for the lower third of the South Island were expected to reach -15degC last night.

Jim Macdonald, of Clarks Junction, said there was about 15-20cm of snow around his farm. Farmers were prepared for the conditions and expected them during winter, he said.

Federated Farmers Otago president Mark Patterson said it was fortunate the bad weather arrived now rather in a few weeks when beef farmers were calving.

The forecast had given ample warning and farmers had time to get stock to lower ground.

"As long as it’s a short sharp shock most farmers should get through it quite comfortably," he said.

  • Road closures will have affected the delivery of the Otago Daily Times this morning.

 - additional reporting RNZ

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