Icy polar blast begins to ease (+photos)

By Imogen Neale

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The polar blast which has caused havoc on the country's roads this week has eased, with light snow showers likely only near the mountain summit in the next few days.

MetService forecaster Lisa Murray said a new front over the South Island was likely to bring snow showers to the mountain peaks over the next three days but was not likely to fall much lower.

"The big dump of snow and cold temperatures have passed over us to the east of the country."

She said temperatures in the North Island were warmer than the past few days, with Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton forecast to reach around 13degC for the rest of the week.

Light snow showers were expected in the central North Island tomorrow morning, but were again limited to the mountain summits.

The improved weather meant many roads reopened earlier today.

However, State Highway 94 between Te Anau and Milford remained closed and caution was recommended on SH6 between Haast and Makarora in Southland, all other roads in Otago, central South Island and Nelson, the Automobile Association Roadwatch website said.

In the North Island, the Desert Road reopened this morning, as did other roads that had been closed.

Caution warnings were in place on SH2 near Kaitoke and SH3 near Woodville.

SH2 between Paeroa and Waihi has reopened after a fatal crash, which killed a 17-year-old boy, at 7.30am today.

For much of today, snowfalls meant motorists travelling the length of the North Island could only travel one route through the Central Plateau, but all highways in the region have now reopened.

Ruapehu College's acting principal John Laurenson said his school had been forced to shut as school buses hadn't been able to get through.

"Two-thirds of our kids bus to school," he said. "At least half of those couldn't get here today."

"We are hoping to open tomorrow but we are governed by the buses".

Ohakune Primary School has also been closed today due to the snow.

Chilly southerly winds laced snow, sleet, hail and rain across the bulk of the South Island yesterday causing slips, closing roads and shutting schools.

Transpower spokeswoman Cynthia Brophy said when the cold snap hit Christchurch yesterday morning electricity demand spiked about 12 per cent.

Roughly the same amount was seen when the mercury dropped in Auckland yesterday afternoon.

- with NZPA

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