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Did Mother Nature forget to switch winter off in the deep south?
Otago and Southland had one of the heaviest snowfalls of the year yesterday, despite it officially being the first day of spring.
Temperatures remained in the single digits all day, making it bitterly cold, and a blanket of snow at Pukaki and in Middlemarch helped suffocate two major fires burning in those areas.
In Pukaki, firefighters said the snow — described by one as slow-release rain — was a major contributing factor in helping contain a 3000ha vegetation fire that had been raging in the area for three days.
Near Middlemarch, a fast-moving grass fire on the Rock and Pillar Range was quickly dealt to by an overnight downpour then covered in a blanket of snow by daylight, making it impossible yesterday morning to see any scars the fire had left.
Omakau appeared to take the brunt of the chilly front, recording 10cm to15cm of snow in the valley.
The Maniototo also had heavy snow. About 7.5cm was recorded in the Ranfurly township, and nearby Naseby was also blanketed in white.
Naseby Holiday Park owner Mike Connell said the town got all of the snow it would usually get over the course of winter, in just one day.
"It was absolutely crazy. We probably got about six inches of snow."
It had been a turnaround after barely any snow fell during winter and the weather had started to warm up, he said.
Queenstown had a light dusting of snow, and heavier amounts (more than 20cm) fell on the skifields.
Wanaka, Cromwell, Alexandra, Roxburgh, Clinton and Gore were unaffected, but the hills and mountains around the townships were covered in snow, including about 30cm on Cardrona and Treble Cone skifields.
The hill suburbs of Dunedin had a light dusting but Oamaru, Balclutha and Invercargill managed to avoid it altogether.
In fact, Invercargill had blue skies and sunshine yesterday morning.
No roads were closed, but the NZ Transport Agency posted warnings for drivers to carry chains and take extra care when using some of the higher roads in the region.
Federated Farmers Central Otago high country industry group representative Andrew Paterson said the weather caught many farmers by surprise.
"Normally, the weather is warmer at this time — we had quite hot weather yesterday. It was 19degC-20degC."
Fortunately, high country farmers had not yet started lambing or calving, he said.
However, many had shorn their ewes in preparation for lambing and were concerned about how the cold snap would affect them.
"Snow lying on the ground and freezing temperatures isn’t good for those sheep."
He said some farmers were moving recently shorn stock back into shearing sheds, and other stock into sheltered paddocks until the weather improved.
MetService meteorologist Peter Little said the snow was widespread.
"Certainly, for the snow to be this low, it’s probably one of the biggest snowfalls this year."
However, it was not unusual for this time of year, he said.
"In spring, we expect a lot of fronts to make their way up the country.
"Particularly for eastern parts of the South Island, we can have what we had yesterday [Monday] — there were very warm temperatures [more than 20degC] and a strong northwesterly ahead of the front, and then there was quite a sharp change with southerly winds.
"It’s quite a common occurrence in spring.
"It’s a matter of just being prepared for four seasons in one day at this time of year."
Mr Little said the showers and snow were expected to clear last night, and today was forecast to be fine with morning frosts across Otago, Southland and Fiordland.