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Snow storm: Travel chaos spreads

Published: 5:52AM Monday August 15, 2011 Source: ONE News / Newstalk ZB

Flights have been grounded at Wellington Airport as disruption from the most severe cold snap in decades spreads over the country.

New Zealand has been blanketed with snow and lashed with gale force winds today, closing roads and schools, disrupting mail deliveries and damaging trees and powerlines.

It wasn't just snow and wind causing problems. Air New Zealand confirmed this evening a flight bound for Wellington from Palmerston North was struck by lightning.

The aircraft continued on to Wellington airport and landed without incident at 4:45pm. Sixteen people were onboard

Snowfall was recorded across most of the South Island, in Wellington and as far north as Auckland.

See video footage of the snow action in Wellington here.

MetService says the extreme weather is likely to hang around until Wednesday with more snow showers tonight.

Showers approaching Auckland from the southwest this evening are likely to bring snow down to 200m.

Thunder is expected to continue in Wellington tonight, while snow is expected to turn to sleet or rain tomorrow, with slightly warmer temperatues forecast.

Along the east coast of the South Island, southwesterlies may rise to severe gale at times overnight.  MetService forecasters are maintaining a watch for coastal parts of Otago and Canterbury and the Kaikoura Coast. Winds are expected to ease tomorrow afternoon.

ONE News meteorologist Jim Hickey said today's weather events were not a "traditional storm" and described it as an "Antarctic railway".

"It's not a depression, or a cyclone or a low with localised storms, rain and snow," Hickey said,

"The wind is coming from near Scott Base, over 3000km away."

Hickey said Kiwis can expect more snow, driving winds and severe wind chill tonight and tomorrow with things slowly easing away on Wednesday.

"The east and south of both main islands will bear the brunt of this polar surge," he said.

Prime Minister John Key opened his post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon by welcoming reporters to "the winter wonderland that is Wellington".

"I can't personally recall seeing snow in downtown Wellington. My wife tells me there is snow around our house, or at least there was for a short period of time in Auckland, so it's very unusual," he said.

Key urged people to exercise caution and check on their neighbours.

Treacherous roads

Roads across the country have been closed and police and the NZTA are urging motorists to stay off roads where it is snowing.

There are a number of road closures across the North Island. Wellington and Canterbury police are warning drivers to make essential travel only tonight.

"While we have been dealing with loose snow on the roads today, we anticipate that the wet conditions will freeze overnight and we will be faced with icy roads in the morning," said Canterbury Road Policing Manager Inspector Al Stewart.

All NZ Bus services in the Wellington region are cancelled tonight, including in the Hutt Valley and outlying areas.

A decision about tomorrow's services will be made in the morning.

The port town of Lyttelton was cut off today by snow-related road closures.

Civil Defence is advising people in Southland to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel with many roads expected to be dangerous.

"You have to assume that all country roads will be marginal, if not impassable," Manager of Emergency Management Southland Neil Cruickshank said.

Airports closed

Wellington Airport says the runway at the airport isclosed and no planes are taking off or landing.

The airport said staff would continually monitor the situation. The airport building remains open.

Air New Zealand said the situation will be monitored throughout the evening and it hopes to get some flights out.

Christchurch International Airport is still open, despite heavy snow blanketing the city.

The chief operations officer, Andy Lester, said some passengers have encountered delays, but others have been able to get in and out of the city.

One international flight was diverted to Auckland, before travelling to Christchurch during a break in weather.

Dunedin International Airport and Queenstown Airport remain closed.

Snow in Auckland

MetService has had reports of snow settling on cars and decks in the Waitakeres, in the central Auckland suburb of Mt Eden, the Bombay Hills, North Shore, Rodney and the Brynderwyn Hills.

Manukau police have advised of dustings of snow in South Auckland.

There were reports of snow falling in Auckland's CBD but the MetService said it was graupel, not snow. Graupel occurs when ice forms on raindrops as they fall to the ground.

The weather in Auckland tonight will be cold enough for snow, and MetService weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said with less wind expected, flakes will have a better chance of settling.

McDavitt says the last time settled on the ground in Auckland was in the early 1960s.

See how the snow was received in Auckland here .

Power cuts

Power cuts have been reported tonight in the Massey area in Auckland, while power surges were reported earlier in central Wellington.

About 2000 people in the lower North Island are still without power as high winds and snow cause trees and branches to tear down overhead lines in Taranaki, Manawatu and Wairarapa regions.

Power is expected to be restored to the majority of lower North Island customers on Powerco's networks by the end of the day, but around 500 customers might not have power restored tonight.

Transpower said tonight a power outage from the Gracefield substation in Lower Hutt has caused loss of supply to customers in the Seaview, Petone and Wainuiomata areas.

Transpower Chief Executive Patrick Strange said crews are working to restore power where there are outages and preventing further losses.

Orion said it was hoping to restore power to the less than 100 customers in Christchurch and central Canterbury that were still without power.

While most should expect power back by 7.00pm, Orion said it would take longer in the rural area of Tai Tapu where access is difficult.

Civil Defence has also advised Wellington residents to stock up on essential supplies in case they are cut off as the storm continues over the next few days.

Weather settling in

Daniel Corbett from MetService told TV ONE's Breakfast the conditions are likely to last for several days.

"It's going to be with us for a few days right through the middle part of the week," he said.

"Many people will notice an area of rain and then the colder air from aloft will drop down and it will turn to snow very quickly like it did in Wellington last night, and with the wind working through it's quite a messy situation in the next few days."

Corbett said the snow that has fallen in the capital has been the heaviest for some time.

"One particular (snow fall) was in 1992 for Wellington, others say it has been 30 years (since the last heavy snow) - it is rare and everywhere else will struggle with the daytime temperatures.

"Many places will see snow that haven't seen it in a very long time and maybe some places, ever."

MetService is forecasting snow will fall down to 400m in Auckland, giving the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges a white coating. Snow is also forecast down to 300m in the Coromandel, and more unusually, down to 500m in Northland.

Quake hit homes feel the bite

Quake damaged homes in Christchurch are suffering again in the snow. See video footage of snow falling in Christchurch here .

Hundreds of residents in Sumner, Leeston and Banks Peninsula had their power cut off.

Driving in the city is treacherous and police are advising motorists to only take to the roads if they have to, and to use chains on their tyres.

Most schools are closed along with CPIT, Canterbury and Lincoln Universities.

In Dunedin, snow has settled right down to sea level. See more from the snow covered South here .

Up to 80 people spent the night at Dunedin Airport after flights were cancelled. The airport has now reopened.

Among them are the Australian figure skating team who told ONE News they were trying to keep positive about the delay: "We're having fun we've made the most of it," they said.

Reporter John McDermott says the streets of Dunedin are very quiet as people seem to be following the advice not to drive.

Buses have been cancelled and the main northern and southern motorways out of the city have also been closed.

The Southern District Health Board has postponed all outpatient clinics and elective surgery until tomorrow.

Farmers are preparing for stock losses as the storm has hit during lambing season.

Sheep and beef farmer Helen Heddell in the North Canterbury settlement of Swannanoa was moving lambing ewes to shelter last night.

She said the mild winter so far may help to minimise stock losses.

Avalanche risk

Skiers and trampers have been warned to take "extreme care" during the severe weather period with the high possibility of avalanches.

The Mountain Safety Council said the avalanche risk will remain high even after the weather clears.

Andrew Hobman from the council said anyone heading into the mountains should take extreme care.

"As the system passes over the country large accumulations of snow are possible to low levels. This could create hazardous avalanche conditions over the next few days," said Hobman.

"If you are planning to head into the mountains over the next week - know before you go."

Find out avalanche conditions  here .

Check the weather for where you live here

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