Damaging severe winds of 240km/h have been recorded tonight on the East Coast of the North Island, nearing the strongest-ever wind gusts recorded in Aotearoa.
Gale-force winds battering the lower North Island have forced the closure of a major state highway, lifted roofs, smashed windows, felled trees, blown vehicles from roads and cut electricity to thousands of homes.
A ferry has been forced to take shelter off the southern Wairarapa coast, flights have been halted at Wellington Airport stranding passengers and severe wind warnings have been extended.
SH2 at Remutaka Hill has been closed due to blustery conditions hitting Wellington and Wairarapa, with winds expected to reach up to 140km/h.
Further south gusts of up to 200km/h were recorded in the Canterbury high country overnight, with unverified reports of a 217km/h reading at a rural fire weather station at Castlepoint and “hurricane” strength winds of up to 244km/h at Cape Turnagain, between Hawke’s Bay and Cook Strait.
The MetService confirmed winds of up 240km/h had been recorded tonight at Cape Turnagain, but said it was important to note this was an extremely exposed location and often recorded winds strengths twice that of areas close by.
The highest-ever wind strength recording in New Zealand was 250km/h, MetService said.
“It’s a pretty good blow for this time of year, the strongest for quite a few springs at least - although we would need to check all the records,’ MetService forecaster Alistair Gorman.
“The past few years Wellington has been lucky not to have such strong winds, but spring is the windiest time of year for New Zealand as a whole.”
Paraparaumu resident Lisa Wylie said the weather was “very scary” as she sheltered inside with her two young sons.
“We are kind of just waiting here to see if your windows are going to blow in,” she half-heartedly joked.
Fire and Emergency crews had been in her area multiple times in the last few hours attending to a variety of callouts, she said.
Severe gales in Wellington have prevented planes from landing at the airport since about 5.30pm.
Wellington Airport posted on social media: “It’s very windy here in Wellington! Aircraft are unable to land at present due to the wind. Passengers are advised to check directly with their airlines for the status of flights.”
Air New Zealand has cancelled all flights into Wellington for the rest of Sunday.
”We are looking at recovery options to get customers to where they need to be,” an Air NZ spokesperson told Stuff.
”At this stage it’s unclear when the weather conditions will abate.”
Wellington Region Emergency Management Office says strong wind warnings for the Tararua district and Wairarapa north of Carterton have been extended to Monday 6am.
The gales have forced an Interislander ferry to anchor off the south coast of Wairarapa.
An Interislander spokesperson said the Kaiarahi ferry was sent to the Cook Strait today for tests, but could not return to dock due to the high winds.
“It has been forced to anchor in a sheltered area until the winds die down.”
The Aratere Interislander ferry sailings have been cancelled for today.
The Bluebridge ferry’s website says sailings tonight are going ahead but customers are warned to expect very rough conditions.
A MetService spokesperson said they “wouldn’t be surprised” if rural parts of the Wairarapa were receiving 200km/h winds tonight. However, more densely populated areas were not recording wind gusts that extreme.
The fiercest gusts to strike the Wellington area so far are in Kelburn which recorded 125km/h, Wellington Airport at 110km/h and Seaview at 130km/h.
The conditions have sparked warnings to motorists to take care on the roads, with reports of vehicles affected by strong winds.
A campervan rolled into a ditch on Mount Cook Road at 1.50pm and a caravan went down a bank on Tekapo-Twizel Road about 1.45pm. There were no major injuries.
Roberts Line in Manawatu is closed between Railway Ave and Kelvin Grove Rd due to downed power lines. And there are reports of a car hitting downed trees just north of Himatangi Beach turnoff and Milner Rd on SH1.
High winds have kept Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) busy.
There are reports of corrugated iron roofs lifting, windows breaking, trees falling and a trampoline in Wainuiomata crashing into a house.
An NZME reporter says a roof has just landed in her Kelburn garden.
The Wellington City Council said there were also “reports of wires down and lamps swaying and branches breaking”, but still not widespread problems.
“Advice though is for people to have a quiet night at home rather than travel.”
A tree is blocking the Northland tunnel and a slip on Glenmore St has been reported. There are reports of a lamp post coming down on the motorway by Grenada Village and a tree down on a house at Wainuiomata.
“We’ve got crews out just making sure things are safe. I’m told some temporary canvas roofing came loose at a school in Ngaio early this morning but it was looked after by Fire and Emergency.”
More than 7000 customers were without power from Kaitoke down to Miramar due to the extreme weather, according to the Wellington Electricity website.
“The largest of the faults has taken out power supply for around 6000 customers in the Hutt Valley. The fault involves damage to two high-voltage power cables which supply the area.
“Our crews are currently in the field locating the source of the damage and will begin restoring power when it is safe to do so. We would like to thank customers for their patience as our crews deal with very challenging weather conditions.”
The agency is asking people to secure trampolines and outdoor objects to prevent them from damaging powerlines.
Residents have taken to social media to discuss the stormy conditions.
“Hard to tell if wind or earthquake right now,” Fleur Templeton wrote.
Gwynn Compton said: “Wow! We just had a 106km/h gust in Paraparaumu... it’s brutal out there at the moment.”
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said the Remutaka Hill road has been subject to a strong wind warning since this morning and was closely monitored all day.
“With the winds intensifying, the decision has been made to close the highway for safety reasons,” the agency said in a press release.
“The highway’s status will continue to be monitored and reviewed according to the weather conditions. Strong winds are forecast to continue until midnight.”
People travelling between Wellington and Wairarapa should either delay their journey or use the longer detour via the Pahīatua Track between Pahīatua and Aokautere, or Saddle Rd between Woodville and Ashhurst.
The detour will result in significantly longer travel times.
Drivers of motorcycles, trucks, vans, campervans and towing vehicles are being warned to take extra care on the roads, particularly in areas exposed to high winds.
“Drivers also need to be on the lookout for fallen trees and other debris brought down on to roads and highways by the bad weather.
“The Wellington Transport Alliance is monitoring highways across Wellington and Wairarapa, with road crews clearing incidents as they occur.”
The wild weather has kept Fenz busy.
A spokesperson said they had received multiple weather-related callouts in Wellington City and Miramar, where roofs are beginning to fly off houses and power lines have fallen to the ground.
RNZ reports more than 1000 properties in the North Island have lost power as strong winds pummel parts of the country.
Electricity supplier Powerco said the areas most affected range from New Plymouth to Wairarapa and Mt Maunganui, with 1100 properties without power as of 4pm.
A total of 211 homes are without power in Featherston, along with 55 properties in Pongaroa in the Tararua district. In Mt Manuganui, power is down for 82 customers.
And the strong winds are fanning a vegetation fire in Canterbury this afternoon.
Fenz said firefighters are working in windy conditions to contain and suppress a hedge fire at a rural property at Charing Cross in the Selwyn District which is threatening structures.
“The initial report of a hedge on fire was received at 3.50pm. By 4.30pm, 11 fire trucks and tankers were at the scene, supported by two helicopters and a command unit.
Crews were responding from Darfield, Burnham, Hororata, Kirwee, Rolleston, Coalgate, Rakaia and West Melton.
As of 4.35pm, the fire had extended 200 metres along the hedge.
By 7pm, five rural crews were mopping up remaining hotspots using hand tools and hoses. The other crews and a helicopter had been stood down.
Two crews will remain at the scene overnight to ensure the fire doesn’t flare up again.
The beginning of spring brings heavy rain and blustery winds for most of the South Island and the bottom half of the North Island.
MetService forecaster Aidan Pyselman said northwesterly gusts of over 200km/h were recorded in the Canterbury high country overnight.
“It is also very windy in and around Wellington, with gusts of 120-130km/h on the Remutaka summit,” he said.
The wind still remains high in many of the more populated low-lying areas across the South Island.
“Winds of 50-60 knots, or 90-110km/h, have been recorded across Wellington, Kaikōura, Blenheim, Stewart Island and coastal Wairarapa,” Pyselman said.
“It’s playing out how we expected,” he said. “It’s widespread wind across southern and central New Zealand.”
Pyselman also said there had been widespread rain across the South Island during the past 12 hours.
The biggest numbers arewere coming out of the Canterbury high country, with 160 millimetres of rain having fallen.
“Arthur’s Pass saw 107mm, while Milford Sound saw 69mm.”
However, the rain spared the bottom half of the North Island.
Orange wind warnings have been issued for Wairarapa, Wellington and the Canterbury high country for late Sunday night, and warnings will expire in Hawke’s Bay, Tararua, Southland, Fiordland and Stewart Island early on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, orange rain warnings for Westland, Buller, Canterbury Lakes and Arthur’s Pass expire later this evening.
Yellow wind watches remain in place for Tasman, the Canterbury Plains and Christchurch until late this evening, as well as for the Kāpiti Coast, central North Island and Otago until early tomorrow morning.
A yellow rain watch remains in place for Nelson Lakes until 10pm tonight.
A heavy swell warning has been issued for the area spanning from the Kāpiti-Porirua Coast to Cape Terawhiti from this afternoon to early Monday morning, with northwest combined waves rising to 4.5 metres on Sunday afternoon, then easing to three metres early on Monday morning.
Road snow warnings are set to come into force this evening on Crown Range Rd and Milford Rd.
Most of the country will see a reprieve tomorrow morning. However, some wind warnings will remain in place for the bottom of the South Island, Pyselman said.
Looking further ahead, there could be more heavy winds and rain to come - classic spring weather.