You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Cyclone Lusi, which has killed at least three people in Vanuatu is expected to smash into northern parts of New Zealand by tonight.
But the cyclone centre is now expected to brush past the north coast and not make landfall.
The deadly cyclone killed at least three people in Vanuatu yesterday including a 6-year-old boy trapped in a mudslide, and an elderly man and woman hit by flying debris in two separate incidents, according to Paolo Malatu, Vanuatu humanitarian team national co-ordinator said.
Another six, all women and children from the worst-hit island of Santo, have been declared missing and are thought to have been buried in mudslides.
The number of dead and missing was expected to increase as communications systems were re-established on the island nation, Mr Malatu said.
Mr Malatu's wife, Jessica, who works at the Melanesian Port Vila Hotel said locals around the capital had been well prepared.
"The winds were very strong, and there was heavy rain."
There had been no damage at the hotel, and people were relieved the storm had passed.
"We're all saved," she said.
Jine Freed, who works at the Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa at the Erakor Lagoon in Port Vila, was able to return to her family for the worst of the storm.
"We were scared."
While the wind had brought down some of the banana trees and there had been a bit of flooding at her family home, it could have been worse, Ms Freed said.
"Luckily, the [worst] rain and the wind was out at sea."
As the cyclone advances on New Zealand, people here are being warned to batten down the hatches and prepare for severe weather, including heavy rain and gale force winds with potential gusts of up to 120 kmh.
Civil Defence yesterday issued warnings reminding people to tie down and secure belongings, as well as to expect flooding, slips, road closures, and power and phone outages.
It also warned people to review their travel plans, with a number of events scheduled over the weekend, particularly around Auckland which is expected to be on the receiving end of some of the worst weather.
While the centre of the storm now looks set to track west, just off North Cape and stay offshore, the storm still has the potential to be severe and damaging.
The first signs of the storm would creep in this evening, MetService warned, with conditions becoming cloudy and blustery down through Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel.
"As we go through the daytime we will see the cloud thicken up, the rain develop and the wind strengthening as well," meteorologist John Law said.
"The North Island in particular will find Saturday to be a wet and windy day with gales quite widely and heavy falls of rainfall.
"We've got a weather watch out for Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and towards Gisborne for some of that rainfall and gales, also for the likes of Waikato and the central plateau will see some of those easterly gales too."
Wind gusts could reach up to 110kmh-120kmh in exposed places, he said.
The North Island will bear the brunt of the stormy weather tomorrow before it moves south, hitting the South Island late tomorrow night or in the early hours of Sunday morning.
MetService forecast potential persistent rain down the eastern parts of the South Island, warning Christchurch residents to be on their guard, following the recent floods.
However, WeatherWatch analyst Philip Duncan said latest models looked like the storm might pass down the west of the Southern Alps, saving Christchurch from much of the heavy rain and severe winds. However, he advised residents to keep an eye on forecasts.
Clouds were already building over Northland and Auckland last night and the storm would continue forming throughout today, Mr Duncan said.
The worst of the weather would hit northern regions tomorrow night and into Sunday morning, with gale force winds and bursts of heavy rain, he said.
"We will be seeing easterly winds picking up [on Friday] from Waikato and Bay of Plenty northwards, and it will start to get a little brisk in some areas too. It will ramp up a little quicker once we get into Saturday and then it starts to go downhill," Mr Duncan said.
Northern regions should gradually clear up on Sunday, as the storm system moves south and west.
- By Patrice Dougan and Teuila Fuatai of APNZ
MetService: Cyclone Lusi is expected to track west of North Cape, with the centre unlikely to make landfall. However, severe weather is still forecast, with rain and winds starting to creep into Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel on Friday evening. The brunt of the storm will hit on Saturday with gale force winds and heavy rain expected across the North Island, in particular Northland, Auckland, Coromandel. Bay of Plenty and Gisborne. Rain and gales could also spread down through Waikato and the central plateau. Wind gusts of up to 110k/h-120km/h could hit exposed places on Saturday, with strong gusts expected to begin on Friday night. The severe weather should begin to clear up on Sunday for northern regions. Eastern parts of the South Island can expect to see the storm hit late Saturday night into early Sunday, with persistent rain expected.
WeatherWatch: Lusi will still be classified as a cyclone when it hits New Zealand. However, it now looks like the centre will track west and just brush past Cape Reinga. This will make little difference to the severity of the stormy weather, with severe winds still expected. Cloud is already beginning to build up across Northland and Auckland and this will continue throughout Friday, with the weather deteriorating towards the evening. Saturday will see the worst of the storm, with bursts of heavy rain, and gale force winds, particularly in the Northland and Auckland regions, down towards Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, growing progressively worse as the day goes on. Saturday night and early Sunday morning are expected to be the worst. It will clear up throughout Sunday. The storm looks like it will cross over the South Island more than previously thought, but it may track down the west side of the Southern Alps, saving Canterbury from much of the heavy rain and severe winds. However, residents are advised to keep an eye on forecasts.