All alpine passes blocked by snow

Wild winter weather has caused chaos across parts of the South Island, and forecasters are urging people to brace for more of the same over the next few days.

Snow has caused several road closures across Canterbury, including all of the South Island’s major alpine passes.

The road closures are: State Highway 6 – 8 Mile to Inangahua due to slip, State Highway 8/Burkes Pass – between Tekapo and Fairlie due to snow, State Highway 73 – Springfield to Arthur’s Pass due to snow, State Highway 6 – Haast to Makarora due to ice, State Highway 8/Lindis Pass – Tarras to Omarama due to snow and State Highway 94 – Te Anau to Milford due to heavy snow.

Road snowfall warnings were also in place for Lewis Pass (SH7), Arthur’s Pass (SH 73), Porter’s Pass (SH73), Lindis Pass (SH8), Crown Range Rd and Milford Rd (SH94).

Heavy rain, snow showers and winds gusting up to 100km/h kept emergency services busy in Dunedin with small landslips in Caversham; heavy flooding in Marne St, Andersons Bay; fencing and a fallen tree over roads; and ice on the Northern Motorway.

This morning Queenstown Lakes District Council warned there had a fresh sprinkling of snow across the district overnight, adding today day for "extreme caution" when behind the wheel or on foot.

The Crown Range remained closed due to snow with an update to come at 10am. So too were the Lindis Pass and Haast Pass.

There was a high chance of ice forming throughout the district on roads and footpaths, with chilly temperatures and snow turning to slush in the lower areas.  Crews were urging plenty of caution between Wānaka, Hāwea and Luggate, along Cardrona Valley Rd, and up in Fernhill and along Malaghans Rd.

Meanwhile authorities say an avalanche hazard now exists on the Milford Rd - which will remain closed all day today.

Further snow would impact the road this afternoon and overnight tonight. Reopening of road (or convoys) through to Milford Sound was dependent on snow clearing progress over a widespread length of road over the next few days. 

Heavy rainfall yesterday caused flooding on State Highway 6 between Luggate and Cromwell as well as at the intersection of Frankton and Perkins Rds, in Queenstown.

Police were also alerted to several weather-related incidents across the region as cars struggled in slippery conditions, including a car which slid backwards on ice down Weaver St, Queenstown, about 3pm yesterday.

It became stuck and needed to be towed.

No injuries were reported, she said.

Skifields made the most of the snow storm on Saturday, but after snow drifts reached about a metre and more heavy snow fell overnight, several closed their gates yesterday.

Coronet Peak ski area manager Nigel Kerr said the "non-stop snow" meant the field was facing "unprecedented avalanche issues".

The access road from the saddle to the skifield car park would be closed until at least noon today because it was "chocker with snow", and the mountain was closed for ski touring at this stage because of the avalanche danger.

Skifield managers said they would reopen once the storm settled down.

The Crown Range Rd was closed at 10.30am for two hours yesterday, because of heavy snow.

It remained closed from the Eastbourne Gates to Cardrona township overnight. An update is expected this morning.

MetService meteorologist Stephen Glassey said temperatures dropped below zero for much of the region, including Dunedin Airport where it dropped to -4.4degC yesterday morning.

He said snowfall was heaviest in the Lakes area and the Milford Rd where about 70cm fell at the Homer Tunnel; and in a rare event, it fell to sea level on Stewart Island.

Last night, the MetService was forecasting severe thunderstorms with heavy rain, large hail, strong squally wind gusts and possible tornadoes overnight in Fiordland, Westland and the Canterbury High Country.

Drivers on Otago Peninsula were being urged to take care last night as a high tide inundated parts of coastal roads in the area.

Mr Glassey said the unsettled west to northwest flow over New Zealand over the past two days was expected to turn west or southwest today as a deep low far to the south of New Zealand sends a broad trough of low pressure northeast across the country.

"Heavy rain and strong winds are forecast to affect many areas, while heavy snow is possible across parts of the South Island.

"West to southwesterlies are expected to rise to severe gale in exposed parts of coastal Southland, Clutha and Dunedin from Monday through to Wednesday."

He said it was likely snow amounts would reach warning criteria above 400m today in northern parts of Southland and Clutha, the Queenstown Lakes District, western Central Otago, and the Canterbury high country.

"Weather conditions should then gradually ease later on Wednesday and during Thursday as the flow eases and tends westerly."

He advised people to keep up to date with the latest forecasts in case any changes were made.



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