A wintry blast will bring howling gales, towering seas, snow and torrential rain to the North Island today.

Temperatures plunged overnight in many eastern towns and cities, and Hawke's Bay and Gisborne are in for a tumultuous day.

Waiouru dived to -1C and Taupo recorded its coldest temperature of the month plunging to a chilly 3C.

Storm clouds are starting to gather over the North Island volcanoes where snow is expected to fall this morning.

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MetService has issued a heavy rain and strong wind watch for the eastern regions as a deep low sits off the coast.

The timing couldn't be worse for Rhythm and Vines Festival, at the Waiohika Estate on the outskirts of Gisborne. Campers started setting up tents this morning for the music festival, which opens tomorrow.

Rain is expected to start falling around 6pm and last until midday tomorrow.

Southerly gales of more than 90 km/h are due to hit late this afternoon and a storm warning is in force.

MetService is also warning of hail-packed thunderstorms as squally showers move up the East Coast of the North Island today.

Five metre swells are expected to batter the coastline between Cape Kidnappers and East Cape.

Towering 5m swells are expected to pummel eastern regions over the next 24 hours. Image / MetService
Towering 5m swells are expected to pummel eastern regions over the next 24 hours. Image / MetService

MetService says despite big swells, the gale-force wind means it is not looking great for surfing until the weekend.

Tourists thinking of attempting the Tongariro Crossing were warned to expect sleety showers on the volcanic slopes and severe southerly gales dropping the temperature to a chilly -12C.

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MetService said the stormy weather was expected to pass by late tomorrow.

It warned up to 80mm of rain was expected to fall in under 18 hours from south of Tolaga Bay and northern Hawke's Bay.