Ferries suspended as storm hits Cook Strait

Inter-island ferries have been suspended after the storm that battered the South Island today whipped up 7-metre waves in the Cook Strait.

The 2pm sailing from Picton to Wellington turned back when waves reached 5m and all further crossings are on hold while the storm makes its way north, a KiwiRail spokeswoman said.

Conditions would be assessed through the evening and a decision would be made later on when sailings could resume, she said.

The wild storm ripped its way up the South Island through the day, with winds peaking at 140km/h, bringing trees down on power lines, lifting roofs and blowing out house windows.

At 3.30pm, 2500 Orion customers were still without power, down from 7000 earlier.

The MetService has issued strong wind warnings for Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula, coastal Kaikoura and the Otago Peninsula north to Oamaru.

Severe southwest gales with gusts of up to 140kmh are expected in some areas.

The winds have brought down trees and powerlines, causing power outages for thousands of people in the Christchurch area.

Power company Orion's website said 5276 customers were without power as of 11.30am.

The gales have also kept firefighters busy, with more than 50 wind-related incidents since this morning.

Most were for downed trees and power lines, smashed windows, flying trampolines and lifting roofs.

Southern fire communications shift manager Karl Patterson said four people had been trapped in vehicles by downed lines this morning.

The occupants of one car on Hoon Hay Rd waited for firefighters to remove fallen lines from their car about 9am. The lines turned out to be telecommunications cables and the occupants were uninjured.

Occupants of another car faced a terrifying 45 minute wait after a live 11KV power line came down on their car in Kainga about 10.15am.

"Obviously the people had to remain in the vehicle until the power could be isolated ... I'd say it would be very terrifying," Mr Patterson said.

The power was isolated and the occupants were uninjured, he said.

Mr Patterson said the wind had started picking up this morning and the incidents peaked by about 10am.

"It wasn't too bad overnight but after 6.30am it started kicking off. Akaroa and Lyttelton took a bit of a hammering first thing this morning - it was predominantly roofs lifting or parts of roofs lifting, loose roofing iron, that sort of thing."

Trees had come down on houses in Halswell and Strowan and power lines in Sumner.

In Heathcote Valley, a shed roof had blown off and landed on a neighbour's roof.

Roofing iron had also lifted from homes in central Christchurch, Hillsborough, Lyttelton, Burwood, Phillipstown, Merivale, Birdling's Flat, Aranui, Bishopdale and New Brighton.

Windows had also been smashed in the gales.

The conservatory windows of a Cashmere home were blown out, and in Cass Bay, a sun room was blown apart and a roof flew off and smashed a neighbour's window.

Trampolines had also caused havoc, with one landing on power lines in Southshore and another ending up on a garage roof in Mairehau.

The MetService said severe southwest gales could gust up to 120kmh in Otago before easing this evening.

On the Banks Peninsula, the gales could gust up to 140kmh before spreading to coastal Kaikoura this morning and easing tomorrow morning.

Strong winds are also expected in the lower North Island today.

The MetService has issued strong wind warnings for coastal Wairarapa and Wellington, where southwest winds are expected to rise to severe gales, gusting 120kmh, this afternoon.

The winds should ease tomorrow morning.

Cold start to March 

Just four days into March and summer seems like a long time ago, with a low pressure system pushing temperatures down and bringing rain.

It was just 8degC in Dunedin this morning with showers and strong sou'westers. 

WeatherWatch.co.nz predicted a high of just 12degC for the city today.

Dunedin could expect strong to gale-force winds today from the southwest which would make it feel even colder, WeatherWatch said.

A high of just 13degC is excpected in Christchurch and Wellington is also exposed to a cold southerly today and a high of 17degC is forecast.

While summer-like daytime highs would return to parts of New Zealand later this week the cold change in the eastern South Island may linger longer, Weather Watch said.

Highs in Dunedin were expected to hover around the low teens for much of this week while Christchurch should warm up again to the late teens.

Main centres for Tuesday:

- Dunedin: Showers, southwesterlies gusting to 120kmh, high of 12degC. 

- Auckland: High of 20degC, fine spells and showers, fresh southwesterlies.

- Hamilton: High of 21degC, fine spells and showers, fresh southwesterlies.

- Wellington: Afternoon showers, some heavy, gales gusting to 100kmh. High of 17degC.

- Christchurch: Heavy rain, southwesterlies gusting to 130kmh, high of 14degC.

Source: MetService.com


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