Polar blast leaves winter coat

By Ben Hill, Catherine Gaffaney

New Zealand last night hunkered down for the big chill - with rugby fans battling sub-zero temperatures at the Super Rugby final and skiers on Mt Ruapehu taking refuge from hurricane-force winds.

A polar blast made its presence felt over much of the country and was expected to worsen overnight, with more snow, rain and heavy winds.

Rugby fans were welcomed by a very chilly -1C at Wellington's Westpac Stadium last night.

Further north, hurricane-force winds and heavy snow lashed Mt Ruapehu, with the blizzard-like conditions leading to the closure of Turoa and Whakapapa ski fields.

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The strongest wind gusts recorded at Whakapapa measured 242km/h.

The polar blast forced at least one group of skiers to seek shelter for the day in a hut at Whakapapa.

Nikita Osborne, 27 (pictured in the snow, right), her boyfriend, sister and sister's husband were forced indoors yesterday and overnight due to the strong winds.

"We went outside to go tobogganing but there was wind and snow everywhere," she said.

"Just standing by the side of the hut was too windy. We ran back inside pretty quickly."

The wind was so strong it pushed snow through the hut's window seals and air vents.

"It's pretty noisy, blowing around the whole hut. It's cold, but we've got a heater and sleeping bag so we're doing okay."

WeatherWatch's Philip Duncan said the winds hammering the Mt Ruapehu area were consistent with a category two hurricane, or a category three tropical cyclone.

Temperatures were likely to reach the coldest for the year in inland parts of the South Island, with central Otago expected to drop to -5C.


North Islanders were also warned to rug up.

MetService meteorologist Allister Gorman described the polar blast as a "slow-moving situation".

"Auckland will have a minimum of 7C, Hamilton and Wellington will get to about 4C or 5C. It will feel a bit colder in Wellington because we've got a bit of wind blowing," Gorman said. "It'll certainly be cold in the North Island, but not compared to what it'll be in the South Island.

"In the North Island most places won't be the coldest, but they'll feel very cold because of the wind and rain and snow - it'll be quite horrible outside."

Heavy snow and rain was expected overnight in Hawke's Bay, and more snow is forecast for the Taupo area.

The bad weather led to widespread power outages in the Hawke's Bay, Taupo, Poverty Bay and East Coast, with about 200 customers in Taupo expected to be without power until at least this morning.

Motorists were warned to stay off the roads in the central North Island unless it was absolutely necessary.

The outlook

Whangarei
Today: Showers. High, 13C
Tomorrow: Odd shower, 13C

Auckland
Today: Odd shower, 12C
Tomorrow: Few showers, 12C

Hamilton
Today: Clear, 11C
Tomorrow: Cloudy, 11C

Tauranga
Today: Cloudy, 13C
Tomorrow: Clear, 12C

Wellington
Today: Odd shower, 8C
Tomorrow: Showers, 8C

- Herald on Sunday

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