December 10, 2023

Polar blast: New Zealand to be blasted by gales, heavy rain, snow to sea level, 27 alerts issued

A number or regions in the South Island are under road snowfall warning or heavy snowfall watches. Photo / George Heard

Nearly 30 warnings and watches are in force as heavy rain, severe gales and snow to sea level are set to envelop central and southern New Zealand over coming days.

The polar blast starts later this afternoon and will last until Friday.

The lower North Island is being warned to brace for destructive gales and those in the South Island are advised that snow could affect road and bring stress to livestock.

A strong wind watch for Clutha, Southland, Stewart Island and Fiordland comes into force first at 3pm today. MetService is warning people that gales may reach severe speeds in these areas.

An orange heavy rain warning then comes into play for Fiordland at 6pm for 12 hours and then for the headwaters of Otago Lakes and Rivers from 8pm for 11 hours.

Further north of the South Island, orange heavy rain warnings have been issued for Westland about and south of Otira and the Headwaters of Canterbury Lakes and Rivers about and south of Arthur’s Pass from this evening and for Westland north of Otira, and Buller from tomorrow morning.

MetService says thunderstorms and up to 150mm of rain are likely across many of these areas.

Meanwhile, a 23-hour orange road snowfall warning is in place for Milford Rd from 10am tomorrow.

“Rain is forecast to turn to snow at higher levels late Thursday morning, then gradually lower to near sea level Thursday night or overnight. Expect 10 to 20 cm of snow to settle on the road above 800 metres, with lesser amounts down to near sea level.”

Southland, Clutha, Dunedin, Central Otago and Southern Lakes will also be under a heavy snowfall watch for 18 hours from 4pm tomorrow.

“Snow is expected to lower to near sea level. Heavy snowfall is possible above 300 metres, where amounts may approach warning criteria.”

The mid-spring polar blast will see temperatures in the south plummet.

Tomorrow night Queenstown’s low will be 0C while in Invercargill it will be 1C and in Dunedin it will be 3C.

Road snowfall warnings are also in place from tomorrow evening for the Haast Pass, Lindis Pass, Lewis Pass, Arthur’s Pass, Crown Range Road and on State Highway 1 between Dunedin and Waitati.

An orange strong wind warning has been issued for the Canterbury High Country from 9pm tonight for 14 hours. MetService said gales could be severe and reach 130km/h.

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

Marlborough Sounds, Wellington and Wairarapa are also under strong wind warnings between 6am and 8pm tomorrow.

Strong wind watches have been issued for Otago, the Canterbury Plains including Banks Peninsula, Marlborough excluding the Sounds, Tararua District and Hawke’s Bay south of Hastings.

Caitlan Johnston is a breaking news reporter based in Waikato. She joined the Herald in 2022.

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