The remnants of ex-Tropical Cyclone Lola have begun their passage down the North Island, leading to a dramatic boat rescue in the North, with commuter chaos also possible today in Auckland.
The wild weather began to lash the top of the country on Sunday afternoon, bringing heavy rainfall and strong wind gusts, which are expected to linger in Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty over the next couple of days.
Much of Waiheke Island appears to have been without power since Sunday, while nearly 2000 Northland homes have also lost electricity as high winds hit. More than 1000 properties were cut off in the western part of the Bay of Islands, RNZ reported.
There were also patches of power outages across the northern part of Auckland, but Vector was unable to confirm to RNZ how many were affected. Lanes were also closed on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
MetService said a strong wind warning was in place for Aotea Great Barrier Island and Whangaparāoa northwards until 9am today, with gusts of 130km/h possible which was “very strong for Auckland”.
School and bin collection has been cancelled in the Coromandel today as the region looks to bear the brunt of the extreme weather.
The weather system involves a large, deep, complex low-pressure system moving slowly down the country, bringing moisture and tropical air from the subtropics.
Strong wind warnings have been in place for Auckland from Whangaparāoa northwards from 6pm last night, and are expected to continue until at least 9am today while a strong wind watch continues until 10am.
Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency closed several lanes and limited speeds on the Auckland Harbour Bridge yesterday afternoon due to the intense wind gusts.
After all the lanes were opened briefly, the wind proved to be strong and Waka Kotahi was forced to close several lanes once again.
Lighter and high-sided vehicles were being advised to detour through the Western Ring Route (SH16).
It was likely that speed reductions and lane closures would occur this morning during peak traffic times as well.
Strong wind gusts could damage trees, power lines and unsecured structures. Driving could also be hazardous, especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles.
This was coupled with a MetService heavy rain watch, which was beginning around the same time.
Heavy rain and easterly gales are expected to hit Auckland this morning. The front will pass over Northland before daybreak and early morning, then move over northern Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula during the morning. Localised rainfall rates of 10-25 mm/h are possible.
Late on Monday morning and into the afternoon, there is a low chance of thunderstorms spreading into southern Auckland.
Images from the rescue of a yachtie on North Cape on Sunday morning show particularly wild weather, with the helicopter pilot who flew him to safety saying the winds were comparable with Cyclone Gabrielle.
MetService meteorologist Alain Baillie said wind gusts of 142 kilometres had already been recorded at Cape Rēinga, similar to the gusts that Cyclone Gabrielle brought earlier this year.
The winds caused swells of up to 10m at times, which battered a 12m yacht off the coast of the Cape and led to a dramatic rescue on Sunday.
The skipper signalled for help around 9am Sunday after the Juan Sabulan began to take on water, which the Northland and Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews soon responded to.
The sea conditions were so rough, Northland Rescue Helicopter co-pilot Bernie McQueen kept watch on the swells, warning pilot Steve Couchman to lift the aircraft away from dangerous surges of water as they hovered near the stricken yacht.
It was an “unusual” set of weather conditions for a crew used to battling stormy elements, he said. While the trip there over land was typically rough, with hills causing the wind to gust and shift, flying offshore was generally smoother even when the wind was strong because the sea was a flat tableau.
That changed over the rescue site, he said, with the swells so large - regularly at 10m - that it disrupted the wind and buffeted the helicopter. He said the sea was becoming even rougher as the crew prepared to carry out the rescue, and they even discussed the conditions under which they would have to abandon the effort.
Couchman said the yachtie had been in contact with the helicopter via a two-way radio and they worked through language difficulties enough to understand he had no life raft. They were also able to clarify he was the only person aboard - it was initially thought there were two on board.
However, the yachtie did have the yacht’s inflatable runabout for motoring to shore and was able to remove the lashes binding it to the boat and get it into the water. From there, the yachtie got into the small inflatable boat and was swept away from the yacht.
The helicopter dropped to between 10-15m above the sea to put paramedic swimmer Dan Short into the water so that winch operator Richard Sharp, who is also a critical care paramedic, could bring the pair aboard. At times, Couchman said McQueen would warn of a “big swell coming” so he could lift the helicopter away from incoming swells.
The French man’s yacht was last seen off the left-hand side of the helicopter as it returned to land - the same side of the aircraft its owner was sitting on. “It’ll go past the top of New Zealand,” said Couchman.
He said the yachtie “did the right thing” in recognising the danger he was in - and leaving the yacht after realising there was no other option other than to abandon it.
“He was very thankful,” said Couchman, who delivered the man to Kerikeri Airport, where he was met by Customs and Police staff. The yachtie arrived with his passport, phone charger and phone. “I shook his hand and said, ‘Welcome to New Zealand’,” said Couchman.
Couchman said swells forecast to be 6m were up to 10m at times, with wind gusts of up to 50 knots - a similar wind strength to Cyclone Gabrielle back in February.
Elsewhere across Northland, Baillie warned residents to secure their trampolines and not to head out in caravans, which are liable to tip over in exposed places.
“Expect power outages and road blockages,” Baillie said.
Baillie said from midday on Sunday, it would be “a dangerous next 18 hours”. Rainfall of 20 to 30 millimetres has already been recorded across Northland on Sunday, with much of it from early that afternoon.
Baillie said there was “plenty more to come”, with peak rates of 15-25mm per hour tipped to hit the country.
An orange strong wind warning came into effect for the region at 9am Sunday. Damaging gusts of up to 130km/h in exposed places were expected until 6am on Monday. An orange heavy rain warning also came into effect from midday yesterday and would remain in place through to 6am today.
Civil Defence Northland communications specialist Zach Woods said “extra caution” was advised for the east coast of Northland on Sunday night because of storm surges and high tides.
“The main concern is tonight, with trees falling potentially and causing power outages and road blockages.
“For those out on the roads, take extra care. There may be hazards we don’t know about that have just happened.”
Further down the country in the Coromandel, severe gales of up to 120km/h in exposed places were expected on the Coromandel Peninsula last night as the weather system tracked down towards the region yesterday afternoon.
The region has been under a heavy rain watch from 9pm Sunday, with 100-140mm expected to fall at peak rates of 15-25mm/h from this morning. Thunderstorms are possible.
MetService is warning this may cause streams and rivers to rise rapidly, and surface floods and slips are also possible, making driving hazardous.
Thames-Coromandel District Mayor Len Salt said their emergency operation team set up shop on Sunday afternoon as the district looked to bear the brunt of the extreme weather.
“We’ve got people and crews all around the peninsula ready to kick in whenever they need to,” Salt said.
Schools will be closed this morning and bin collections have been cancelled due to the forecast heavy rain and strong winds.
“We’ve asked people to stay away from the coastal areas - we’re expecting storm surges and big tides and big waves, so we ask people just to stay away from the shorelines,” Salt added
Salt also advised residents to travel only if necessary, and was nervous about the already damaged road network being hit hard again.
“What we’re hoping is that this event will go through in a fairly short space of time and the damage will not be too bad,” Salt said.
Civil Defence controller Garry Towler urged Coromandel residents to “stock up on supplies, batteries and gas, check and clear drains in your neighbourhood”.
They had been told to tie down outdoor furniture and “review plans should you become isolated due to slips and flooding”.
“It is the remnants of a cyclone - we have king tides, storm surges, heavy rain, gale-force winds and ongoing land instability issues as a result of Gabrielle.
“Those living close to the sea need to prepare for wave surges by having a Plan B and somewhere to go, especially if the surges increase during the main high tides: 8am and 8pm Sunday and 9am and 9pm Monday.”
Cyclone-ravaged East Coast residents were being told yesterday to get prepared for the coming deluge while there was still daylight.
From 3am this morning, residents in Gisborne from Tolaga Bay northwards were being told to expect 120 to 170mm of rain, especially about the ranges with peak rates of 15 to 25mm/h.
Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.