Thunderstorms are bearing down on the North Island likely to bring large hail and damaging winds to go with the light show.

At 09:30 pm, MetService weather radar detected severe thunderstorms near Manawatu.

"These severe thunderstorms are moving towards the east, and are expected to lie near Manawatu at 10.00 pm and near Palmerston North and the Manawatu Gorge at 10.30pm.

"Very strong wind gusts can break branches from trees, damage roofing, and make driving hazardous especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles," MetService said.

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A severe thunderstorm watch remained in place for Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu and Kapiti-Horowhenua.

It came as overnight temperatures were likely to drop to as low as -4C in the South Island and as high 12C in the Auckland and Northland regions.

The weekend will bring more cold nights as unsettled wintry weather including but not limited to thunderstorms, snow, hail, rain and wind is forecast across the country.

The cold snap gripping the nation wasn't going anywhere soon, MetService meteorologist Tui McInnes said.

A number of fronts would push over the country from the south through the weekend with each front bringing shower and rain and cold overnight temperatures.

That spelled rain hail and wind for the North Island and snow and freezing temperatures for the South Island.

McInnes said a front moving up the country today will bring wet and windy weather to exposed places in the North Island overnight and into tomorrow.

In addition, large swells from the southwest were also expected for western coasts.

A low pressure system over the North Island is expected to move away to the east on Saturday, followed by strong cold southwesterlies over much of the country.