20 Jun 2013

Largest snowfall in decades in south

10:17 pm on 20 June 2013

Inland areas of Otago and Canterbury have received their largest snowfalls in decades in a winter storm that has cut power to thousands of people. Some coastal areas are also flooded.

Hanmer Springs in Canterbury on Thursday.

Hanmer Springs in Canterbury on Thursday. Photo: SUPPLIED

Christchurch and Dunedin missed out on the anticipated snow storm, but inland areas bore the brunt of the polar blast. Provincial towns and settlements have been hit hard, with 36 schools from Canterbury to Southland having to close and thousands were without power on Thursday.

The MetService has been warning of the storm's power all week, but the amount of snow and rain dumped since Wednesday has surprised many people.

The forecaster warns the worst is yet to come, with warnings of heavy snow for Canterbury and Kaikoura above 300 metres on Thursday night and Friday.

Farmers at Clark's Junction, inland from Dunedin, said that 1 metre of snow has fallen - the most for 20 to 30 years. Near the South Otago town of Lawrence, Geoff Blackmore said he had 40 centimetres on the deck of his house - more snow than he has seen his whole life.

Freezing night for many

Some 3500 households in Canterbury and Southland had no electricity when they woke up due to heavy snow on Thursday morning and it's likely that hundreds will be without power overnight.

Lines company Mainpower said supplies are still cut to about 50 of its customers on Thursday night, mainly in North Canterbury. Staff are working in heavy snow and strong winds to restore power from Lewis Pass to Cheviot and Kaikoura.

Mainpower said a big dump of snow is expected in the area overnight, but hoped that power would be restored to affected customers on Friday.

Earlier on Thursday, Powernet said 500 customers in Southland were without electricity. Fairlie, in the Mackenzie Country in South Canterbury was one of the worst affected townships, with more than 1200 cuts.

Slips and flooding

Heavy rain in Dunedin has caused two big slips. About 30 metres of hillside fell away in heavy rain on Wednesday night, crashing onto a house on Blanket Bay Road. Police had to free a woman living at the property. The Otago Regional Council said there had been 75 millimetres of rain in 24 hours, flooding paddocks and low-lying land.

Flooding also caused two schools to close in Leeston in Mid-Canterbury. Residents in Leeston and Doyleston are asked to use as little water as possible and minimise toilet flushing, as heavy rain has affected sewage systems. The request from the Selwyn District Council applies until further notice.

Alpine roads closed

The New Zealand Transport Agency has closed the South Island's alpine passes to traffic due to heavy snow.

The agency said heavy snowfalls are predicted for alpine areas overnight on Thursday and it would decide whether to reopen them at 9am on Friday.

Other roads are also covered in snow, while some are flooded and experiencing high winds. Drivers should avoid travelling overnight on Thursday if possible.

The agency also warned drivers to watch for surface flooding on State Highway 1 between East Taieri and Milton.

Too much snow to ski

A blizzard and white-out conditions forced the Mount Hutt ski field in Canterbury to close on Thursday. It is the second closure due to snow since it opened for the season on 15 June.

Ski field manager James MacKenzie said more than a metre had fallen since it started snowing at 5pm on Wednesday and the wind chill factor was minus 25 degrees Celsius on Thursday.

Mr MacKenzie said it is extremely rare for such a large amount of snow to fall on the mountain within a 24-hour period. He expected the field to reopen on Saturday.