Conditions set to ease after weather bomb

Conditions are set to ease after a weather bomb lashed the lower South Island, bringing heavy snow and strong winds that disrupted flights, closed roads, and caused grave concerns for farmers. 

While snow was continuing to fall in some places on Tuesday afternoon, MetService said relief was in sight, and a slew of weather warnings and road closures would lapse as the day wore on. 

The disruption this morning came after the first part of the blast yesterday led to cancelled flights, suspended bus operations, road closures, stranded motorists and traffic congestion across Otago and Southland.

Niwa has labelled the weather event a bomb cyclone, or weather bomb, which is when low pressure strengthens at a pace of 24+ hectopascals (hPa) in 24 hours.

Snow was heavy for a time in central Dunedin today, even settling on some of the city's beaches. At 11.30am, the temperature in the city was 0degC, according to MetService. Slippery roads posed problems for motorists, particularly in the hill suburbs.

Accompanying high winds also caused problems, bringing trees down around the South this morning, including on State Highway 1 north of Dunedin.

The city's residents can look forward to better things in coming days, however, with a settled spell set to begin tomorrow, and temperatures in the 20s by the weekend.

MetService this morning still had weather warnings in place for the South, including a heavy snow watch for Dunedin, and heavy snow warnings for parts of Otago and Southland. However, these were due to expire this afternoon.

Several southern highways remained closed early on Tuesday afternoon, and the NZ Transport Agency had cautions in place for many roads. State Highway 87 (Outram-Middlemarch), SH93 (Clinton-Mataura)  and SH94 (Milford Road) are all closed owing to snow.

  • Check southern highway conditions here

The Clutha District Council said snow settled to low levels across its network overnight, and it advised all road users to exercise "extreme caution".

Near Queenstown, the Crown Range Road was earlier closed due to snow, and then again following a crash, but it has now reopened.

In Central Otago, Moa Flat Rd and the Danseys Pass Road are closed.

Snow fell in Roxburgh and the Teviot Valley overnight and started falling across the rest of the region from about 8am today, steadily progressing to almost blizzard-like conditions an hour later, before the clouds opened and the region was treated to blue skies and sunshine.

However, another change came through and snow was falling heavily again from later in the morning.

The Southland District Council says motorists have snow and sleet to contend with, and gale-force winds are making conditions "exceptionally treacherous".
Services have been affected at both Dunedin Airport and Queenstown Airport today. 
  • Check Dunedin Airport here
  • Check Queenstown Airport here

Farming fears

Milton sheep and beef farmer Nigel Woodhead told RNZ's Morning Report programme today the snowfall still had not stopped and there was double the amount this morning compared with last night.

"For us, that's a big snowfall any time of the year where we are, so to have it this time of the year is not good.

"It'll cause some problems ... there would've been a few lambs fallen overnight and unless they were in good shelter and good strong lands, I daresay they were [killed] unfortunately."

He said it was a serious and significant event for farmers.

"Storms like this with this amount of snow in the ground in September aren't common but [the 2010 storm] was a really bad one."

Luke Kane is milking cows on a farm in Tapanui, in West Otago.

He told Morning Report it's been snowing all morning and was "not pretty at all" with 10cm across their dairy platforms.

"Sheep farming is not going to have a good day at all.

"Plenty of shelter for the cows today, a lot more supplementary fed will be fed to try and keep them warm and happy as possible ... it's more the young lambs, that's going to be difficult."

He says temperatures this morning were at -5C, and 2cm of snow had fallen on the backs of cows.

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong told Morning Report he had never seen gales like these in his 39 years in the area.

"It's a real driving snow and hail ... it's having an effect on our livestock, calves and lambs out there, and our crops that have just been put in the ground.

"The farmers have been aware of this coming, there's been some very good notifications coming out of our emergency management team here, so farmers have prepared and moved stock where they can but certainly high country will be a different story."

Earlier story

Yesterday, Air New Zealand and Jetstar cancelled or diverted all flights into Queenstown before 3pm, when the snow was cleared.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said passengers were booked on to later flights.

A Jetstar spokesman said customers were offered travel on the next available flight at no additional cost or given a voucher.

Cardrona Alpine Resort recorded more than 40cm of snow — but had to close because of strong winds.

Mercure Hotel general manager Prasheel Churi said the effect on the Fernhill business was mixed, with a few cancellations from those unable to fly in, but some extensions from guests unable to flight out.

Orbus Queenstown was heavily disrupted, with the service to Lake Hayes and from Arthurs Point to Arrowtown both suspended for most of the day.

Central Otago escaped the brunt of the polar blast overnight, with towns throughout the region waking to a dusting of snow on the ranges.

Andrew Paterson, of Matakanui Station, said he had both early lambs and calves "on the ground" in 1cm-2cm of snow.

"It’s not ideal. We’ve had more winter in spring than we’ve had all winter."

He praised forecasters.

"We had plenty of warning and that makes planning a bit easier."

Ross Paterson, from Waikaka Station in Eastern Southland, said his farm turned white after heavy snow started falling at 9.30am.

"It is what it is — there is nothing we can do about it."

It was the wind, which had started to pick up by yesterday afternoon, that did the main damage, he said.

For orchardists the concern overnight was the potential for frost, and most were preparing to frost-fight until this morning.

Motorists were warned to be cautious when using roads across the district.

A minor crash on Gorge Hill, on State Highway94, caused trouble for some motorists in the morning as, when vehicles stopped for the crash, the snow began.

A NZ Transport Agency spokesman said there was minimal damage and no injuries.

"As there were no vehicles passing over the road, this queue built up quite quickly."

There were about 40 in total.

"The road then needed to be ploughed to allow the stranded/stuck vehicles to continue, so, as a result, the road was closed."

Nik Hurring, of Dunedin, had the first day of her holiday on Stewart Island interrupted by the snow which settled on the beach.

"Locals have told us it was the heaviest snowfall over here in 35 years."

 - additional reporting RNZ






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