Snow covers the Crown Range road as a winter blast moves across the country. Video / George Heard
The western regions of New Zealand have been struck 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 the top of the country after early morning electrical storms saw larger hail than grapes hit the west coast.
The western areas of the North Island and the South are expected to bear the brunt of today’s severe weather, with a series of warnings issued by MetService in effect and, along with that, strong winds and seas.
A new set of 32 weather warnings was issued this morning, extending over the weekend from the southernmost regions to just south of Auckland.
Virtually the entire South Island is under some form of weather warnings, with potentially damaging heavy snow in the deep south, electric storms on the west coast, and gale force winds in the east.
Snow warnings have been updated in Fiordland as snow is expected to fall to sea level in parts of Southland.
Strong winds that will sometimes reach gale force are expected to hit the eastern regions of both islands.
Wellington’s west coast remains under strong storm surge warning with waves expected to reach 5m, posing the risk of flooding to coastal properties and roads.
A severe thunderstorm is currently in effect for Waikato.
This morning, MetService said there were 19,397 lightning strikes between 8:00 am on Thursday and 8:00 am on Friday.
A new severe thunderstorm is now in effect for Waikato, Waitomo, and Taumarunui as electrical storms move west over the center of the North Island this morning.
Snow is falling on the Alpine regions, with State Highway 73 from Springfield to Arthurs Pass closed due to snow and Castle Hill residents were cut.
This morning, road workers were putting sand on Crown Range Rd to make it passable even if the vehicles have to carry the chains.
Temperatures in the lower part of the country are not expected to drop by a single digit today, with further snowfall expected overnight.
Weatherwatch.co.nz said grape-sized hail fell on the west coast this morning when an active cold front moved to the country’s western flank, intertwined with scattered thunderstorms and blizzards.
MetService has since lifted all severe thunderstorm warnings for the Wellington region and the top of the South Island just before 8:00 am after a series of thunderstorms were detected before dawn.
At 7:15 am the meteorologist issued a loud storm warning saying that thunder and lightning were due to the whipping Horowhenua, Manawatū, and would move through the chains in parts of Wairarapa for the next hour.
The forecaster warned that the electrical storm should be accompanied by heavy rain, damaging wind gusts, possible tornadoes and hail.
He previously issued a similar warning for Kāpiti, saying he expected bad weather to occur near Ōtaki, Paraparaumu, Waikanae, Paekakariki, Kāpiti Island, Southern Tararua Ranges and Te Horo around 6am.
People should be careful if they are driving, return to land if in the water, and shelter indoors if possible.
Lane restrictions on Auckland Harbor Bridge
People using the Auckland Harbor Bridge are advised that the bridge will operate four lanes in each direction this morning in anticipation of the expected strong winds from 9am to 8pm.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency issued the reminder on its social media channels 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 that time period.
“Caution is advised, especially for vehicles and motorcycles with high sides. Allow more time,” road authorities said.
A breakdown in a northbound lane on the bridge briefly blocked a left lane during the morning rush hour before the vehicle was cleared.
It came when Niwa issued a warning of rain hitting the city.
Within minutes, visibility had been reduced, with a breakdown blocking a southbound lane on the northwestern highway.
Meanwhile, strong storm surveillance remains in place for Nelson, Buller, Taranaki, Manawatū, Kāpiti-Horowhenua, Wellington and Marlborough.
The unstable and messy weather is expected to continue throughout the weekend for many regions of New Zealand as well as a series of fronts move up the country.
A tornado damaged homes and uprooted two pine trees, sending them – like spears –through the roof of an auto parts company yesterday in Waikanae, north of Wellington.
MetService meteorologist Aidan Pyselman said there is a possibility of thunderstorms for the western parts of both islands today. “It is a very active situation that we have at the moment, very unstable”.
Bad weather is expected in these areas on Saturday and Sunday as well.
There are a number of weather warnings in place for the lower regions of the North Island and Wellington. “The lower part of the North Island looks pretty wild in strong winds,” Pyselman said.
In Wellington, Wairarapa – south of Featherston – and the Marlborough Sounds,
Severe storms reaching 120 km / h are possible this morning and later today.
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 3:00 to 8:00.
In addition, a 48-hour storm warning was issued until midnight on 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 Region Emergency Management Bureau yesterday told Porirua and Kāpiti residents to prepare for the high seas until midnight tonight.
Manager Jeremy Holmes said there was the potential for increased waves and flooding, with coastal residents facing cases of coastal erosion, purge, surface flooding and deposits of driftwood, algae, sand and gravel.
“We urge residents in affected areas to start thinking about ways to reduce the impact of storm surges on their property, such as using sandbags or barriers and moving objects off the lawn and driveway.”
For Nelson, Buller and Westland, heavy thunderstorms are possible until around 8:00 am, while heavy rains are expected in Westland and Buller from late morning.
Meanwhile, snow is expected below approximately 300-400m in the lower part of the South Island on Saturday and Sunday. Significant snowfall is expected in areas above 500m.
MetService said snow should hit many higher roads and passes and, coupled with strong winds and low temperatures, could put stress on livestock.
Weather: Auckland Harbor Bridge restrictions, snow falling south, storm warnings lifted for Wellington
SourceWeather: Auckland Harbor Bridge restrictions, snow falling south, storm warnings lifted for Wellington