STORM WARNING

Western Bay of Plenty residents are being warned to brace for surface flooding, slips and raging rivers this weekend as a ferocious front begins hammering the region.
A cold front that moved in this morning is forecast to hang overhead until early Sunday, dumping as much as 140mm of rain on Tauranga and other low lying areas in just 33 hours, the Metservice warns.
The ranges would be hit the hardest, receiving between 220mm to 280mm by 3am on Sunday, while the heaviest falls bringing 20mm to 25mm per hour were expected to arrive tomorrow.
The front was the leading edge of an "invading weather system" pushing a northerly across the region and dragging in its wake westerly winds brought from the Tasman Sea.
Metservice weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said the Bay was "already sodden" from several heavy rain events in recent months.
"You don't need much more rain to cause problems.
"People should expect slipping problems, rising river levels and maybe even some surface flooding.
"It's not often that we issue 200mm of rain over 36 hours for the Bay of Plenty."
The bad weather coincides with the Bay of Plenty Steamers versus Auckland rugby match in Tauranga tomorrow.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive officer Jeremy Curragh expected the rain would thin the turnout to the 2.35pm clash at Baypark Stadium.
About 12,000 fans had been anticipated, but Mr Curragh today told the Bay of Plenty Times the weather could cut that number to about 8000 if the forecast did not change.
After the Steamers' win over Hawke's Bay last weekend, he believed tomorrow's match would still prove "a good attraction".
Sergeant Cam Anderson of Tauranga Police said all police staff were aware of the forecast weather and wanted to reinforce to the public the importance of adjusting their speed to the weather and road conditions.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokesperson Andy Knackstedt said motorists should accept it could take longer for them to reach their destinations.
Although it was "relatively rare" for rain to close Western Bay of Plenty highways, Mr Knackstedt said motorists should still check the NZTA website for the latest highway information before setting out this weekend.
The Metservice has also issued North Island severe weather warnings for northern Gisborne, Coromandel Peninsula, the eastern hills of Northland, the Tararua Range, Mt Taranaki and the central North Island hill country from eastern Taranaki and Taumarunui across to Tongariro.
Skies were forecast to clear during Sunday.
Meanwhile, it was hoped the weather would clear today so more than 1000 skiers stranded on Mt Hutt could start heading down from the mountain after spending a long night in two cafes.
The skiers were stuck on the mountain, unable to get down the access road because of severe winds blasting 200km/h on the ridges, drifting snow and poor visibility made driving off the mountain too dangerous.
There is no accommodation at the ski resort west of Christchurch and they were forced to hunker down in two cafes overnight.
Among the 1000 packed into the facilities tonight were 300 children in school parties and other children accompanying parents on school-holiday trips.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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