Fifty-year snowfall on 'temperate' Coast

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star

Our Lady of the Alps church at Franz Josef Glacier lived up to its name this morning. Photo / Supplied
Our Lady of the Alps church at Franz Josef Glacier lived up to its name this morning. Photo / Supplied

Snow fell on the West Coast this morning - down to sea level in places - as the region experiences one of its hardest winters in years.

Reefton was under 15cm of snow at 11.15am, and Whataroa children were enjoying the novelty of making snowmen.

The alpine passes to Canterbury were closed for the second time in three weeks.

At 10am, it was just 1.9C in Hokitika, and 1.6C in Greymouth an hour earlier.

Snow was settling on the ground at Kokatahi at Ikamatua, and was thick just inland from Bruce Bay.

WeatherWatch head analyst Philip Duncan said the worst weather was hitting the western coastline of the country.

He said a lot of New Zealanders did not realise it, but places like Greymouth, Westport and Hokitika often shared similar winter temperatures to New Plymouth and Auckland, as opposed to the colder winters experienced in the east and south of the South Island.

Temperatures on the West Coast were hovering around 4-5C yesterday afternoon, which was "incredibly rare".

"The West Coast has had some of the most brutal weather this winter by a mile. They have had unbelievably cold weather for an area that is quite temperate and mild usually."

Three weeks ago, 200 stock died from exposure at Kowhitirangi, and nearby Hokitika experienced its coldest day since 1968.

Greymouth weather observer Phil Forrest said the Coast was not getting the usual sunny, crisp winter days it was accustomed to.

"The sunshine (hours) are poor, and it's been very cloudy."

New Zealand Transport Agency West Coast manager Mark Pinner said winter had come early, and hard. It was unusual to have all the passes closed, twice within such a short space of time.

There was snow on Mount Hercules, between Harihari and Whataroa, and the Fox Hills, between Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. It was also reported at Lake Kaniere and Rotomanu.

Otira shivered under half a metre of snow by 10am. Road contractors hoped to reopen one of the alpine passes later today.

Reefton weather observer Tony Fortune said the snow was still falling this morning and school buses were not running. The temperature dipped to minus 3C overnight. It was the most snow since 1961.

Franz Josef Glacier had received 5-10cm of snow by 9.30am, and it was still snowing. Whataroa was reported to have had its biggest dump of snow in about 18 years.

- The Greymouth Star

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