- A slow-moving winter storm is creeping across New Zealand, bringing warnings of heavy rain, large hail and winds up to 130km/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.
- Just about every western and northern region of the country is at risk of damaging thunderstorms on Sunday.
- Small tornadoes are possible in coastal areas.
- Snow continues to fall up to 600m in the south.
More than 18,000 lightning strikes have been recorded on land and water around Aotearoa in 12 hours as a severe winter storm intensifies.
The bad weather is expected to continue for a few more days as a vigorous trough moves slowly over the motu.
Weather warnings and watches are in place for much of the country on Sunday morning, with frequent thunderstorms expected in western and northern New Zealand until 9 p.m.
MetService warns of heavier rain, potentially large hail, strong gusts of squally winds up to 130 km/h. Small tornadoes are also possible around coastal areas.
* Weather: Strong winds, thunderstorms and snow as cold front hits New Zealand
* Snow-like hail falls as thunderstorms move over Auckland and Northland
* Stormy Wednesday followed by colder and more unstable weather
Meteorologist Stephen Glassey said the worst weather up to 9.30am on Sunday morning was concentrated in Queenstown, which suffered a 30mm downpour, and the west coast of the South Island.
“In Westland and eastern Bay of Plenty there were some very good thunderstorms, they had quite a few lightning strikes early this morning.
“And there was a band of thunderstorms just west of Auckland, but they weakened as they moved over land, so Auckland was spared a thunderstorm.
“I see there are more heading to Northland in the next few hours though.”
Glassey said the unstable nature of the storm could be boiled down to the fact that there were 18,039 lightning strikes recorded by MetService in the 12 hours to 9:30 a.m.
The majority of them were over water, with 1,119 strikes over land in the North Island and 256 strikes over land in the South Island.
Snow was falling in the south Sunday morning above 600m and 400m in some isolated valleys, Glassey said.
On Sunday morning, MetService added an amber heavy rain warning for Kapiti-Horohenua, Tararua, Wairarapa and Wellington.
An orange heavy rain warning was already in effect for Westland, south of Otira, on Sunday morning, with 150-200mm of rain expected. This rain meant there was a risk of rising waters in rivers and streams, surface flooding and slips.
An orange strong wind warning was also added on Sunday morning for Buller, Canterbury High Country, Marlborough, Wairarapa, Wellington and Westland. Gales could reach 130 km/h.
MetService forecaster Gerard Bellam said there was more to come early next week.
“We have an assortment of everything. You have heavy rain, strong gales, snow, thunderstorms, hail, big swells – certainly a memorable storm for the start of winter.”
“We have a deep low pressure system crossing the country during [Sunday] and Monday and the center of it is south of the South Island.
Luckily, most of the time everywhere else it will stay relatively warm on Sunday.
“It’s not a classic cold outbreak with southwesterly flows, it’s more of a choppy westerly outbreak at the moment, but it will go more southwesterly as we move into Monday, Tuesday .”
Large accumulations of snow had fallen over the higher parts of the Southern Alps earlier in the week, but most heavy snowfall warnings were lifted on Saturday evening.
Milford Road was closed until Monday between Park Boundary and Chasm, where road crews expect a meter of snow to fall at the Homer Tunnel.
Winds of up to 130 km/h were forecast on Sunday in the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, the Kāpiti coast and southern parts of Wairarapa, as well as in Marlborough and the Kaikōura coast.
Westland, Buller and the Canterbury High Country could expect gales from Sunday morning to Monday afternoon.
Bellam said there will be no respite for western regions after the thunderstorms they have experienced in recent days.
“Much of the country is unfortunately on the trail of these storms.”