A severe weather watch is in place for Rotorua as thunderstorms and downpours are expected to drench central parts of the North Island this afternoon.

Thunderstorms occurring from South Auckland, Waikato and Waitomo across the central high country to Hawkes Bay, including inland parts of Bay of Plenty and Rotorua, could be accompanied by downpours of 25 to 40mm per hour.

The severe weather is expected to hit Rotorua between 3pm and 9pm today.

Rainfall of this intensity can cause surface and/or flash flooding, especially about low lying areas such as streams, rivers or narrow valleys, and may also lead to slips.

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Driving conditions will also be hazardous with surface flooding and poor visibility in heavy rain.