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MetService meteorologist Brian Mercer said the entire country was experiencing a cold southerly airflow and gales were due to hit eastern coastal areas today and tomorrow.
"From about 11am this morning we are expecting southerly winds to approach severe gales at times," he said.
"It is mostly going to be offshore, but certainly some of those exposed coastal valleys could get some stronger winds.
"Those strong winds will spread up the east coast from about 1pm this afternoon, and then up to Hawkes Bay and Gisborne from about 7pm this evening."
Strong wind watches are in place for the Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, Marlborough, Wellington and Wairarapa, and Canterbury from Banks Peninsula northwards.
Mercer said some showers and very cold temperatures were also expected, and snow to relatively low levels.
"Lindis Pass (SH8) and Arthur's Pass (SH73) have had snow overnight, and we are expecting snow to drop down to about 500 metres on the eastern side of the Canterbury Plains this afternoon.
"Moving up we would expect some of those showers to develop snow to about 600-700m in Wairarapa and the Wellington hills, and possible even into the Hawkes Bay ranges."
Snow showers were forecast for the Lewis Pass (SH7) and Porters Pass (SH73) later on Sunday.
In the far south, Oamaru was the only town expected to hit double digits, reaching a high of just 10degC on Sunday.
Rain was forecast for Dunedin and Invercargill with a high of 9degC, while Queenstown and Wanaka would be fine on 7degC and 8degC, respectively.
In Southland, road users were advised to take care on the Milford Road (SH94) due to ice. The road has reopened after heavy snow late last week.
The Crown Range linking Queenstown and Wanaka had snow on Sunday morning but the road was open and gritted. Chains were essential.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council said there was a mix of wet and dry roads across the district on Sunday morning, with temperatures mostly above freezing at ground level. Road users should drive to the conditions.
Chains were also needed from the Skippers Rd turnoff to Coronet Peak Base, it advised.
- NZ Herald and ODT online