Snow blankets the Crown Range road as a winter blast sweeps across the country. Video / George Heard
Western parts of New Zealand have been zapped by nearly 20,000 lightning strikes in the past 24 hours.
Many areas are experiencing a second day of stormy weather, with snow falling in the south and rain now sweeping across the top of the country after early morning electrical storms saw hail larger than grapes hit the Western coast.
Western parts of the North and South Island are expected to bear the brunt of severe weather today, with a number of MetService warnings in effect – and with that, high winds and seas.
A new suite of 32 weather warnings have been issued this morning which stretches into the weekend from the southernmost regions to south of Auckland.
Virtually the entire South Island is under some form of weather warning, with potentially damaging heavy snowfall in the deep south, electrical storms on the west coast and high winds to the east.
Snow warnings have been improved in Fiordland while snow is expected to fall at sea level in parts of Southland.
Strong winds reaching gale force at times are expected to hit the eastern regions of both islands.
The west coast of Wellington remains under a severe swell warning with waves forecast to reach 5m, posing a risk of flooding to properties and coastal roads.
A severe thunderstorm watch is currently in effect for Waikato.
This morning, MetService said there were 19,397 lightning strikes between 8:00 a.m. Thursday and 8:00 a.m. Friday.
A new severe thunderstorm watch is now in effect for Waikato, Waitomo and Taumarunui as electrical storms move west over the central North Island this morning.
Snow is falling in alpine regions, with State Highway 73 from Springfield to Arthurs Pass closed due to snow and Castle Hill residents cut off.
This morning road workers were sanding Crown Range Rd to make it passable although vehicles must wear chains.
Temperatures at the bottom of the country are not expected to exceed 10 digits today, with more snow expected overnight.
Weatherwatch.co.nz said grape-sized hail fell on the west coast this morning as an active cold front moved down the western flank of the country, interspersed with thunderstorms and scattered squalls .
MetService has since lifted all severe thunderstorm warnings for the Wellington area and upper South Island just before 8am after a line of thunderstorms was detected before dawn.
At 7:15 a.m., the forecaster issued a severe thunderstorm warning that thunder and lightning were expected to hit Horowhenua, Manawatū, and move through mountain ranges in parts of Wairarapa within the next hour.
The forecaster warned that the electrical storm is expected to bring very heavy rain, damaging wind gusts, possible tornadoes and hail.
Earlier he issued a similar warning for Kāpiti, saying he expected bad weather to occur near Ōtaki, Paraparaumu, Waikanae, Paekakariki, Kāpiti Island, the southern Tararua Ranges and Te Horo around 6 am.
People should be careful if driving, return to land if on water, and take shelter indoors if possible.
Lane restrictions on the Auckland Harbor Bridge
People using the Auckland Harbor Bridge are advised that the bridge will operate in four lanes in each direction this morning in anticipation of the strong gusts of wind expected from 9am to 8pm.
Transport agency Waka Kotahi NZ posted the recall on its social media this morning, after an earlier notice was posted yesterday.
Motorists are told to plan ahead; as speed reductions and lane closures are said to be “likely” between this period.
“Caution is advised, especially with high-sided vehicles and motorcycles. Allow for extra time,” traffic authorities said.
A failure in a northbound lane on the bridge briefly blocked a left lane during the morning rush hour before the vehicle was cleared.
It came as Niwa issued a wet weather warning hitting the city.
Within minutes, visibility had been reduced, with a breakdown blocking a southbound lane on the Northwest Highway.
Meanwhile, a severe thunderstorm watch remains in effect for Nelson, Buller, Taranaki, Manawatū, Kāpiti-Horohenua, Wellington and Marlborough.
The unsettled and disorderly weather is also expected to continue through the weekend for many parts of New Zealand as a series of fronts move across the country.
A tornado damaged homes and uprooted two pine trees, sending them – like spears – through the roof of an auto parts business in Waikanae, north of Wellington yesterday.
MetService forecaster Aidan Pyselman said there was potential for thunderstorms in western portions of both islands today. “It’s a very active situation we have at the moment, very unstable.”
Bad weather is expected in these regions on Saturday and Sunday as well.
A number of weather warnings are in effect for the Lower North Island and Wellington regions. “The lower part of the North Island looks pretty wild with strong winds,” Pyselman said.
In Wellington, Wairarapa – south of Featherston – and the Marlborough Sounds,
strong gales reaching 120 km/h are possible this morning and later in the day.
Northwest winds could also reach gale force Saturday through Monday in exposed locations.
A morning warning of possible thunderstorms was also issued for Waitomo, Taranaki, Manawatū, Kāpiti-Horowhenua, Wellington, Marlborough from 3am to 8am.
Separately, a 48-hour swell advisory has been issued until midnight Saturday for the Kāpiti-Porirua coast from Ōtaki to Cape Terawhiti.
Waves could reach 4-5 meters early this morning, before dropping to 3-3.5 meters this afternoon.
The Wellington Area Emergency Management Office yesterday told residents of Porirua and Kāpiti to prepare for high seas until midnight tonight.
Manager Jeremy Holmes said there was potential for more surf and flooding, with coastal residents facing instances of coastal erosion, scour, surface flooding and driftwood deposits , seaweed, sand and gravel.
“We urge residents in affected areas to start thinking about ways to reduce the impacts of the swell on their property, such as using sandbags or barriers and moving objects off their lawns and driveways. .”
For Nelson, Buller and Westland, severe thunderstorms are possible until about 8 a.m., while heavy rain is expected in Westland and Buller from late morning.
Meanwhile, snow is expected to drop below around 300-400m in the lower South Island on Saturday and Sunday. Heavy snowfall was expected in areas above 500 m.
MetService said the snow is expected to affect many higher roads and passes, and coupled with strong winds and low temperatures, could stress livestock.