Motorists caught out by hard frost, black ice

Pruning chardonnay vines yesterday with light snow on the ground and the temperature just above...
Pruning chardonnay vines yesterday with light snow on the ground and the temperature just above freezing at the Pasquale Kurow Winery were (from left) Helene Foucault and Angelique Lacroix, from France, and Michelle Gard, from Hakataramea Valley....
Senior Constable Bruce McLean and members of the Wanaka Volunteer Fire Brigade at the scene of an...
Senior Constable Bruce McLean and members of the Wanaka Volunteer Fire Brigade at the scene of an accident yesterday on the Wanaka-Luggate highway where a vehicle hit ice and rolled. The Albert Town-based driver and passenger in the vehicle were...
Senior Constable Mike Colligan keeps an eye on well-behaved drivers in the icy conditions in...
Senior Constable Mike Colligan keeps an eye on well-behaved drivers in the icy conditions in Alexandra yesterday morning. Photo by Sarah Marquet.

A severe frost yesterday morning on top of a weekend of snow and rain created mayhem on regional roads, with several accidents and many more near misses.

Minor or non-injury accidents were reported at Lawrence, Omakau and Wanaka, while Winton and Riverton police officers attended about six crashes yesterday morning on rain-slicked roads already slippery from a heavy frost.

New Zealand Transport Agency area manager John Jarvis said early morning hail yesterday in Central Otago had created dangerous driving conditions and black ice formed on roads throughout the district.

"It's been almost like a hoar frost situation in some areas."

The NZTA was keeping a general black ice warning in place for Central Otago throughout last night and more snow was expected on the passes overnight, with temperatures expected to drop below freezing again.

The Haast Pass was closed to towing vehicles yesterday morning because of snow, but opened to all traffic in the afternoon, with chains essential. Chains were also required on the Lindis Pass early in the day.

Residents in Cardrona village woke to a light dusting of snow, and snow continued to fall there until about 10am.

The weekend's cold snap caused power usage in Otago to increase from 861MW the previous two Sundays to 910MW, figures from Transpower show.

Power usage peaked on Sunday at 5.30pm after an earlier peak about 10am. However, peak usage was similar to the past two years at the corresponding time and last year the usage throughout the day was higher.

Sergeant Dave Greaves, of Alexandra, said the public were to be commended for the way they handled driving in the difficult conditions.

"It is a credit to local drivers that only one car left the road [near Omakau] in what can only be described as very difficult road conditions," he said, although the Otago Daily Times understands at least one other vehicle left the road, near Fruitlands.

"When the roads are as slippery as they were today it is important that motorists slow to the conditions and increase following distances. Clear vehicle windows are also necessary as a lack of visibility is an obvious hazard, to both the driver and other road users".

It was overcast and temperatures remained close to zero throughout Central Otago yesterday, with the sheet ice around Ranfurly only beginning to thaw about midday.

Sgt Greaves said the school bus runs from Omakau and Fruitlands were cancelled and the Poolburn Hill had been closed but reopened by 10am.

Senior Sergeant Richard Whitmore, of Balclutha, advised motorists to drive to the conditions, and to delay non-essential travel until later in the morning when roads were safer.

Motorists have been warned to take care today after a band of snow went through North Otago early yesterday morning which could cause heavy frosts and black ice.

Waitaki District Council emergency services manager Chris Raine said wet roads, and snow still on some, could freeze if there were frosts last night, causing a major hazard for motorists.

The snow seemed to have come through North Otago in a strip, leaving a dusting on the ground in some areas and virtually none in others.

In the Waitaki Valley, there were patches of snow from Black Point, between Duntroon and Georgetown, to Aviemore and in the Hakataramea Valley.

Otematata residents had snow on their cars yesterday morning but none on the ground, while Omarama had none.

State Highway 80 into Mount Cook Village was closed overnight until cleared yesterday morning by a snowplough, and motorists using the Lindis Pass were advised to carry chains after fresh snow.

It was good news for North Otago's two skifields - Waitaki Ski Club's Awakino, above Kurow, and Ohau Snow Fields, both getting a good coating.

Awakino usually opens next month and Ohau has its opening day scheduled for Saturday.

State Highway 8 was closed for an hour yesterday morning after a utility vehicle hit black ice near Lawrence, with the road closed for an hour until contractors could spread grit.

Two men living in Albert Town were lucky to escape injury yesterday morning when their car rolled on the Wanaka-Luggate highway after hitting ice on their way to work.

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