Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Severe southerly hits, nationwide temperatures drop

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Severe southerly gales battering Wellington today are creating havoc for school holiday travellers as flights and ferry crossings are cancelled.

A southerly front is travelling up the country today, bringing cold winds and driving rain rain to many parts and motorists in the South Island are being warned of dangerous driving conditions.

In Wellington, winds were reaching 146km/h and a storm warning was in force for the Cook Strait, with swells reaching five metres, according to the MetService website.

So far the 2.30pm Interislander ferry sailing has been cancelled, with a decision to be made later this afternoon on whether to halt later crossings.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said they would be monitoring the swells throughout the day.

"If passenger sailings are cancelled then we will be in touch with those passengers and we'll be endeavouring to get them on a sailing on Monday.''

The wild weather caused ship to break free from its moorings at Aotea Quay in Wellington Harbour.

The Panama-registered car-carrier Trans Future 7 drifted into the harbour today when the bad weather hit the capital, CentrePort port operations general manager Steve Harris said.

"She's now under control of tugs and there's no danger to anybody or anything.''

The vessel had been loaded with vehicles before it broke away from its mooring, but they were in no danger of falling overboard, he said.

The tugboats would hold the ship in a "safe place'' in the harbour until the weather cleared enough for it to sail to Lyttelton, or back to its berth in Wellington, Mr Harris said.

Meanwhile, there has been no further damage to train tracks running along the shore between Wellington and the Hutt Valley but they were being monitored, the KiwiRail spokeswoman said.

Trains were stopped on Friday while workers fixed damage to the sea wall caused by high swells on Wednesday.

The track and seawall were extensively damaged and train services crippled for nearly a week last month during one of the worst storms to hit the capital.

Wellington Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said some regional flights in and out of the capital had been cancelled today but most flights were operational.

"But there may be some delays and we advise passengers to check with their airline for information,'' he said.

Winds were gusting to 106km/h at the airport.

Elsewhere around the country, police warned of extreme road conditions in the Southland/Central Otago area, with numerous reports of ice and black ice on the main highways.

Police urged drivers to be careful and to keep speed down and following distances up.

There have been reports of 10 minor ice related incidents in which cars hit ice and slid off the road, police said.

There were no major injuries.

MetService meteorologist Liz Walsh said Wellington, Marlborough and Wanganui were in for a "bumpy ride'' with the strong winds today.

"At the moment we're in a strong southerly flow,'' she said.

The winds would ease slightly by this evening, Ms Walsh said.

In the lower parts of the North Island, snow was expected to settle to about 300 metres.

Snow would clear from the South Island and a high will move in from tomorrow, which should start to settle things down over the next few days, Ms Walsh said.

"And that will gradually spread over the rest of the country during the following days.

"There's a bit of drama at the moment and we're in the thick of it, but it is going to gradually ease towards the end of Tuesday and Wednesday where most of the country will be coming fine.''

WeatherWatch.co.nz reported that temperatures were now dropping nationwide.

At 2pm temperatures around the country were:

* Auckland 11C;

* Hamilton 14 C;

* Wellington 7C but in exposed areas the wind chill has brought temperatures closer to zero;

* Christchurch 5C;

* Dunedin between 3C and 5C.

- APNZ

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