Has your region been hit by the storm? Tell us what's happening in your area
Click here to send us your news, photos and video.

Howling gales and heavy rain pounding the North Island have shattered weather records, and winds were last night hampering rescue efforts after an "unprecedented" mass whale stranding at the northern tip of New Zealand.

Severe gales, powerful enough to uproot trees, were hitting Manukau Harbour entrance, Coromandel and New Plymouth last night, and more heavy snow is forecast for parts of Southland already battling the heaviest snowfall in years.

Whale stranding

In the Far North, wind and sea conditions prevented up to 75 beached whales being refloated at Spirits Bay.

By 10.30pm, unconfirmed reports said 40 whales had died. The Department of Conservation said at least 20 were confirmed dead and another 20 had been moved above the high-tide mark and were still alive.

The whales were spread over 5km.

DOC operations manager Patrick Whaley said conditions for more than 80 volunteers last night were "absolutely awful".

"We're battling huge waves and strong surf ... human safety is our top priority."

One option this morning is to move the whales to a nearby creek and refloat them during a break in the weather. Another option is to move them and refloat them at a more sheltered beach about 45 minutes south.

Some of the beached whales had to be euthanised yesterday because they were drowning or were too badly injured by rocks.

Te Hapua School teacher Te Aroha Wihapi took senior students to the beach to help cover the whales in wet sheets and tarpaulins.

"It was quite traumatic for some of the younger ones. Two of them wanted to hug one of the whales because they saw its eye was weeping."

Volunteers from DoC, Project Jonah, Far North Whale Rescue and the local Te Hapua community spent last night keeping the whales cool and damp.

DoC Kaitaia area manager Jonathan Maxwell said the number of whales was "unprecedented".

The department was warning people going north to prepare themselves for cold weather and 40 knot winds.

"The biggest part is people management. You've got to watch for hypothermia and keep rotating them," said Mr Maxwell.

Mrs Wihapi believed the harsh weather had something to with the whales beaching themselves.

Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster said it could be one of many reasons.

"Quite possibly it was the reason, but with our geography and where we stand in the world with the two oceans around us ... a lot of whales get stranded."

Weather warnings

Severe weather warnings remained in effect last night for most areas as a fast-moving front moved through.

Gusty winds will persist in Auckland today but the weather is expected to get warmer and more settled before the weekend.

At the other end of the country, gusts of 110km/h were hitting Invercargill last night and farmers were facing their own calamity in the snow - up to a million newborn and expected lambs are at risk on 800 farms.

One Otago farmer is believed to have lost 1000 lambs.

Predicted snowfall for Southland did not come overnight giving the hard-hit region another day of recovery.

But a heavy snow warning remains in place for the region, with the MetService saying that 10 to 15cm of snow could accumulate above 200m tonight.

Farmers expect the storm cost to exceed that faced by farmers after the Canterbury earthquake.

Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said farmers had looked forward to a bumper season because of the high international price of lamb, but after this week's weather they would be lucky to break even.

The cold air which struck Southland also clipped the North Island yesterday - snow fell in Stratford, Taranaki, which is 300m above sea level. In Auckland, the windchill factor was 6C.

Power cuts

Powerco said about 3500 customers across Manawatu, Taranaki, Rangitikei and western Bay of Plenty were without power this morning.

"The severe winds have come through as forecast and caused trees and branches to tear down overhead lines across the country from around 3am this morning," network operations manager Phil Marsh said this morning.

"The weather conditions are forecast to ease today and we expect to restore power to the majority of affected customers by the end of the day barring further damage to the network."

Nearly 80,000 households across the area have been affected by weather-related power cuts since last Friday.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) reported that eight days before the end of the month, Wanganui has had its wettest September since records began 120 years ago.

The wild weather has also broken records for strongest wind gusts and largest sea swell.

Auckland's west coast beaches were pounded by eight-metre swells and four-metre waves on Monday.

MetService has forecast waves of up to four metres on the west coast of the North Island today.

Yesterday, gale-force winds tore strips off buildings in Auckland.

In Newmarket, train services were halted for an hour after a section of roofing on the Lion Breweries building was damaged and corrugated iron fell in front of a passenger train.

The train was not damaged, but all trains were forced to slow to 40km/h because of the high winds.

At Auckland International Airport, witnesses reported hearing a sound "like a plane crash" as 100km/h gusts ripped a flashing from one of the building's piers. At the domestic terminal, a large section of the roof was peeled back by strong winds.

Airport spokesman Richard Llewellyn said both terminals were repaired with no disruption to passenger flights. Some freight planes were grounded until the wind abated.

Homes in Auckland were also affected.

Otahuhu resident Ruby Kumar watched her carport lift in the wind and flip on to a neighbouring house.

"It was quite alarming. The carport always shook during storms, but this time it took off in front of my eyes. It's broken windows and part of the roof, so it's lucky no one was hurt."

Scaffolding fell and caused serious damage to a three-storey house being built in suburban Hillsborough.

All New Zealand's skifields have had snow this week. But they have been closed intermittently because of the high winds.

Mt Ruapehu spokesman Mike Smith said the mountain operators were eagerly awaiting a change in weather because the school holidays begin on Saturday.

Metservice weather ambassador Bob McDavitt said today's strong southwesterlies and squally rain would be replaced by warmer, northwesterly winds tomorrow.