Snow joins pouring rain, severe gales, as spring storm pushes north

2018-11-09 08:01:53

A front which brough heavy rain and snow to much of the South Island is moving over the North Island but better weather is in its wake.

A key highway between Canterbury and the West Coast was closed after washing out in downpours on Thursday and Friday, and will remain closed over the weekend.

The weather also closed several roads and schools in South Canterbury, with Timaru receiving more than its average monthly rainfall in less than 48 hours and Fairlie receiving a decent dusting of snow.

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In the midst of the bad weather, the body of Rejoice Stedfast was found in the swollen Haupiri River on the West Coast early on Friday morning. Stedfast, from the Gloriavale community, was a mother of 11 and had fallen into the river when a bank gave way.

A MetService spokesman said all heavy rain and severe weather warnings had been lifted on Friday evening.

The front that brought severe weather to central and southern New Zealand was moving north over the North Island and would gradually weaken.

Meteorologist Ravi Kendule said: "There's a system of high pressure building in the west, gradually over the course of tomorrow.

"There's a front sweeping over the North Island now. The South Island is largely clearing from a rain regime to a shower regime. It's still very cloudy there but it's going to start to break up during the day tomorrow.

"[The] North Island is going to see those two fronts pass over during the course of the night and once that happens, tomorrow the North Island is going to start to clear as well. We might see some afternoon convection around the ranges of both islands tomorrow afternoon and evening.

"But essentially, for the next two days after this system has gone through during the overnight period and early tomorrow morning, we're looking at fairly fine weather for most populated areas."


The NZ Transport Agency said State Highway 73 would stay closed between Arthur's Pass and Jacksons until at least mid-Monday.

An alternate route is available via the Lewis Pass (SH7). Drivers are advised to factor in an additional 90 minutes.

Systems manager Pete Connors said the Goat Creek Bridge remained intact, but the western approach had been washed away.

"It's still very much as it was built. The bridge was built on a curve on top of a rise in the road ... The angle of the camera adds to the optical illusion.

"The creek has spilled through the abutment and a settlement slab has fallen off which is exactly what it is designed to do," he said.

Contractors would need to fill in 5000 cubic metres to build up the road again.

The rain eased off early Friday afternoon, but the water level needed to go down before the work could start, Connors said.

LOW-LEVEL SNOW UNUSUAL forecaster Aaron Wilkinson said it was unusual to have snow falling to low levels for inland Canterbury at this time of year.

He said snow had fallen about 300m below the expected level of 700m above sea level.

"This is most likely caused by a process called evaporative cooling and it happens very infrequently."

Wilkinson said this evaporative cooling process was so rare it only happened about every five years.

Porters Pass (SH73 between Springfield and Arthurs Pass) was closed because of snow. MetService expect the road to be clear by midnight.

Arthur's Pass Cafe and Store owner Sean Moran said it started snowing about midday on Friday.

"It's the best snow we've seen all year," he said.

"We had a very lean winter ... we've got a very good coating everywhere."

SH73 between Arthur's Pass and Jacksons would remain closed over the weekend due to slips, with the next update expected at 12pm on Monday.

An alternate route is available via the Lewis Pass (SH7). Motorists are advised to factor in an extra 90 minutes.

SH6 from Hokitika to Franz Josef reopened shortly after 4.30pm.

An NZTA spokesman said motorists should drive with extreme care and at safe speeds, as debris and surface flooding was still affecting many sections of road.

Temporary speed restrictions and lane closures are in place along several areas of the road.

State Highway 1 on the Kaikōura coast is open but is being monitored.

The road was still open at 4.30pm, but it was subject to closure depending on weather conditions.

"We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause, and we're asking people to be patient and drive with extra caution. Our contractors are working hard to get the roads open again. Please add extra time to your journey and keep updated on the road conditions," Connors said.


The Christchurch Operations Transport Centre (CTOC) said there were delays on the Christchurch Northern Motorway as drivers slowed down to look at the flooded Waimakariri River on Friday morning.

Commuters from North Canterbury took to social media to complain about traffic being at a crawl. One driver told Stuff the water level was the highest he had seen in more than 20 years.

A CTOC spokesman said there were no plans to close either bridge over the Waimakariri River.

"The river level is high, but both bridges are perfectly secure."

Waimakariri District Council spokesman Alistair Gray said there has been some concern about the river level, but it was starting to go down on Friday afternoon.

"As the rain is starting to ease, the water levels are dropping. Both bridges are also completely fine to use," he said.

No other major weather-related incidents or complaints had been reported in the Waimakariri district.


Snow has also hit mid-canterbury around Fairlie, Burkes Pass and Tekapo on Friday.

Jenny Pawsey, of Coolgardie Station near Burkes Pass in the Mackenzie district, said they had nearly 70mm of rain on Thursday. When she woke up on Friday morning, she thought the rain had stopped. But she looked out her window and saw heavy snow had settled.

She was driving to Tekapo and said the road was dangerous. She understood schools in the area were closed.

Heartland Information Centre volunteer Lloyd Harwood said it started snowing in Fairlie about 7am and was still falling strongly by mid-morning.

"It looks like it for last for a while yet," he said.


Wellington was also cold, grey and decidedly gloomy, but escaped the worst of the weather.

MetService said 5.4mm of rain had fallen by 4pm, with another 3.3mm expected to fall before midnight.

Northwest gales which buffeted the region earlier on Friday had eased, but a severe wind warning remained in place until 8pm.

Northerlies remained strong in some areas and severe gales were possible for a time in exposed places.

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