Blizzard-like conditions will lash the South Island over the next 48 hours, with powerful winds, heavy rain and a dumping of snow threatening property and power grids.
MetService has issued a “triple whammy” of strong wind, heavy rain and heavy snow watches as two rounds of severe weather are tipped for the next two days.
The first round is expected to blast the country overnight tonight, and wind speeds up to 120km/h are slated for the bottom of the North Island tomorrow night.
MetService meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane told the Herald “blizzard-like conditions” were possible at high elevations in mountainous areas and people needed to prepare.
MetService issued a 48-hour strong wind watch for Fiordland, Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago, Southland and Stewart Island beginning at 9am today and ending at 9am Wednesday.
“Winds may reach severe gale in exposed places, and this watch could be upgraded to a warning closer to the time,” MetService said.
A strong wind watch for the Canterbury High Country and inland Marlborough begins at 3pm today, lasting until 3am Tuesday.
Later, the Canterbury Plains will fall under a strong wind watch from 2am Tuesday until 4am Wednesday. A watch for Banks Peninsula ends at midnight Wednesday.
A 34-hour strong wind watch begins for northern Otago, Dunedin and Clutha at 2am Tuesday and ends at noon Wednesday.
A strong wind warning, meanwhile, has been issued for Wellington, Wairarapa and Marlborough beginning at 6pm Tuesday and ending at 5am Wednesday.
MetService said strong gusts could damage trees, powerlines and unsecured structures; and could make driving more dangerous, especially for drivers of high-sided vehicles and motorcycles.
“Expect severe gale northwesterlies in exposed places, with gusts reaching 120km/h,” MetService said.
Slew of heavy snow, rain watches issued for south
A slew of heavy snow and rain watches have been issued for the bottom of the South Island, with road snowfall warnings in place for three mountain passes.
Snow is forecast down to 400 metres in Southland, Clutha, Fiordland on Tuesday night and down to 200m on Wednesday night, with a heavy snow watch from 10pm Tuesday until 10am Wednesday.
For Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and inland Dunedin, meanwhile, snow is forecast to fall down to 300m on Wednesday morning.
MetService warned snowfall there could approach warning criteria, with heavy falls tipped 500m above sea level.
A watch there lasts from midnight Tuesday until 10am Wednesday. MetService said this could be extended.
MetService issued road snowfall warnings for the Milford Rd, State Highway 94, from 1am Tuesday until 6am Wednesday with up to 50 centimetres likely to settle above 300m.
A snowfall warning for the Crown Range Rd lasts from midday until 5pm Tuesday, with 2 to 4cm possible above 800m near the summit.
Between 1pm and 6pm Tuesday, a snowfall warning is in place for Lindis Pass, SH8, with up to 2cm of snow likely above 800m.
Periods of heavy rain and thunderstorms are possible in Firordland, where a heavy rain watch has been issued from 1pm today until 2am Tuesday.
“Note, another brief burst of heavy rain is expected to affect the [Fiorland] area Tuesday afternoon,” MetService said.
The headwaters of the Otago lakes and rivers will fall under a heavy rain watch from 11am and 5pm Tuesday. A watch starts an hour later, at midday Tuesday, for the headwaters of the Canterbury lakes and rivers.
A heavy rain watch for the ranges of Westland south of Otira begins at 5pm today and lasts until 6pm Tuesday.
MetService meteorologist David Miller said the winter storm was due to fronts spreading around the country followed by a cold air mass.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.