- A slow moving winter storm is creeping over New Zealand bringing warnings of heavy rain, large hail and winds of up to 130 km/h for the next few days.
- More than 18,000 lightning strikes were recorded by MetService in the 12 hours to 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
- Almost all western and northern areas of the country are threatened by damaging thunderstorms on Sunday.
- Small tornadoes are possible in coastal areas.
- Snow continues to fall in the south up to 600 m.
More than 18,000 lightning strikes have been recorded on land and water around Aotearoa in 12 hours as a ferocious winter storm gathers.
The bad weather will continue for a few more days while a powerful trough slowly moves across the motu.
Weather warnings and surveillance are in place for much of the country on Sunday morning, with frequent thunderstorms expected across western and northern New Zealand until 9pm.
MetService warns of heavier rain, potentially large hail and strong gusty winds that could reach 130 km/h. Small tornadoes are also possible near the coast.
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Meteorologist Stephen Glassey said the worst weather up to 9.30am Sunday morning was concentrated in Queenstown with a downpour of 30mm and the west coast of the South Island.
“We’ve had some very decent thunderstorms in Westland and Eastern Bay of Plenty, they’ve had quite a few lightning strikes this morning.
“And there was a series of thunderstorms west of Auckland, but they weakened as they moved over land, so Auckland was spared a thunderstorm.
“However, I see more moving to Northland in the coming hours.”
Glassey said the unstable nature of the storm could be summed up by the fact that MetService recorded 18,039 lightning strikes in the 12 hours to 9:30 a.m.
Most of these were over water, with 1,119 striking over land in the North Island and 256 over land in the South Island.
In the south, snow fell over 600m and 400m in some remote valleys Sunday morning, Glassey said.
On Sunday morning, MetService added an orange heavy rain warning for Kapiti-Horowhenua, Tararua, Wairarapa and Wellington.
An orange heavy rain warning was already in effect for Westland south of Otira on Sunday morning, with 150 to 200mm of rain expected. This rain meant the danger of rising water in rivers and streams, surface flooding and landslides.
An orange high wind warning was also added for Buller, Canterbury High Country, Marlborough, Wairarapa, Wellington and Westland on Sunday morning. Gales could reach 130 km/h.
MetService forecaster Gerard Bellam said there was more to come early next week.
“We have a hodgepodge of everything. You have your heavy rain, heavy storms, snow, thunderstorms, hail, big waves – certainly a memorable storm for early winter.
“We have a deep low-pressure system that is crossing the country at the same time [Sunday] and Monday, and the center is over the south of the South Island.”
Luckily Sunday will mostly stay relatively warm everywhere else.
“It’s not a classic cold snap with southwesterly currents, it’s more of an unstable westerly one at the moment, but it’ll be going more southwesterly as we go into Monday Tuesday.”
Large accumulations of snow had fallen in higher parts of the southern Alps earlier in the week, but most heavy snow warnings were lifted on Saturday night.
Milford Rd was closed until Monday between Park Boundary and Chasm, where road crews expect a meter of snow will fall at the Homer Tunnel.
Winds of up to 130 km/h were forecast in the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, the Kāpiti Coast and the southern parts of Wairarapa, as well as in Marlborough and the Kaikōura coast on Sunday.
Westland, Buller and the Canterbury Highlands could expect storms from Sunday morning into Monday afternoon.
Bellam said there will be no respite for the western areas from the rolling thunderstorms they have been experiencing over the past few days.
“A large part of the country is unfortunately affected by these thunderstorms.”