Wild weather closes skifields, roads across Canterbury as 109km/h gusts recorded

Wild weather is causing havoc across the South Island today, downing trees and closing roads and skifields.

The winds are rising in intensity in inland parts of Canterbury at the moment.

A strong wind warning is now in place for the Lewis Pass (State Highway 7) and Springfield to Arthur's Pass (State Highway 73).

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has advised motorists to "take care if driving a high sided vehicle or motorcycle".

Aoraki/Mt Cook Aerodrome has recorded a gust of 109km/h while Puysegur Point and Mid Dome at the far southwest of the South Island have been hit with 156km/h winds.

Canterbury is in the firing line with an orange heavy rain warning issued for the headwaters of the Canterbury lakes and rivers south of Arthur's Pass.

A strong wind watch is also in place for Christchurch, Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains, with the north-westerly set to approach severe gale force in exposed places.

Strong gusts also felled trees and forced the closure of State Highway 8 between Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapō for two hours this morning.

It since reopened, but a reduced speed limit and stop-go signs were in place, he said.

Fallen trees also caused State Highway 6 near Orman Falls on the West Coast to be closed, RNZ reports.

Waka Kotahi senior network manager Robert Choveaux said crews were working to clear the branches.

Minor rockfalls and flooding were also present on the highway from Cromwell to Haast.

It was particularly bad between Cromwell and Luggate where flooded paddocks were spilling water on to the road, Choveaux said.

Motorists were urged to take extra care when travelling on state highways in Canterbury and Otago today, with strong wind gusts expected on six other main routes.

People were told to expect delays, drive to the conditions and regularly check travel alerts for updates.

Conditions were expected to ease this evening.

The gale-force winds had affected skifields as well, with many in the South Island closed for the day.

Rain, snow and wind had been reported at several popular ski spots, including Cardrona and Coronet Peak.

Cardrona spokeswoman Jen Houltham said it was very windy up the mountain and the field had received 25 centimetres of fresh snow.

She was confident the field would reopen tomorrow morning.

Ski fields at Mount Hutt, Treble Cone, the Remarkables, Ōhau, Porters and Cheeseman had all also closed.

MetService yesterday said an active front, preceded by strengthening northwest winds, would move eastwards across the South Island today, bringing heavy rain to the west of the South Island and to the Otago and Canterbury headwaters.

The forecaster said gale to severe-gale northwesterlies preceding the front were expected to affect the south and east of the South Island and the lower North Island.

"Heavy rain and strong wind warnings and watches are in force for these areas."

Waka Kotahi this morning said strong winds were affecting State Highways 6, 8 and 85, and urged drivers to take extra care.

MetService said orange heavy rain warnings were in place for the headwaters of the Otago lakes and rivers until 2pm today, where up to 140mm of rain was expected to fall near the Main Divide, and up to 110mm was expected to fall within 25km east of the Main Divide.

Thunderstorms were also possible and peak rates of up to 30mm of rain may fall each hour.

In Fiordland (about and north of George Sound), up to 110mm was expected to fall by 10am this morning, and peak rates of up to 30mm may fall during possible thunderstorms.

"Heavy rain may cause streams and rivers to rise rapidly," a MetService spokesman said.

"Surface flooding and slips are also possible and driving conditions may be hazardous."

He said further rain or showers were expected in Fiordland (south of George Sound), from this afternoon through to early tomorrow morning.

A strong wind watch was also in place for all of Otago (except Clutha) until noon today and in Fiordland, Southland, Stewart Island and Clutha until 9am today.

"Northwest winds may approach severe gale in exposed places," he said.

"Strong wind gusts could damage trees, powerlines and unsecured structures. Driving may be hazardous, especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles."

He advised residents to keep up to date with the latest forecasts in case parts of it were upgraded to orange warnings, or further areas were added.

 - additional reporting RNZ, Star News




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