First winter snowfall in New Zealand

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Saturday, June 4, 2005

Snowfall on a lake

Overnight Friday a Southerly storm brought snow to both the Southern Alps and the central North Island mountains of New Zealand for the first time this year, closing major roads and stranding travellers at the start of the Queens Birthday holiday weekend. Police and the AA urged motorists to drive with extra care and to the conditions this weekend.

This photo, taken at 7.30 PM, shows the local Waiouru police officer telling a Transit NZ official that slushy snow on the alternative route had now iced up. He said big city drivers, not used to these conditions, were driving too fast and sliding into each other.

In the North Island, State Highway 1 between Waiouru and Rangipo, the Desert Road was closed by deep snow at 3 PM on Friday afternoon. Other roads in the area, including other parts of State Highway 1 between Bulls and Turangi, State Highway 4, via National Park, and 49, via Ohakune, were closed at 8 PM.

These road closures stopped all traffic through the centre of the North Island. About 200 travellers were reported to have spent the night at the Waiouru Army Camp, being accommodated in the Marae and the Barracks. Grit trucks and snow ploughs worked overnight to clear the snow and reopen roads, with the Desert Road finally being reopened about 12:30 PM Saturday.

Together with a slip threatening to close State Highway 3 in the Manawatu Gorge and damage to State Highway 2 after floods in the Bay of Plenty a couple of weeks ago, the only reliable alternative route for travellers around the North Island was via Wanganui and Taranaki.

In the South Island, Police and the AA advised that chains were essential when travelling over the mountain passes.

Yesterday, Mount Hutt skifield announced it would be opening Saturday morning. Early Saturday morning, skiers were reported to be queuing at the gates of Mount Hutt skifield, eager to get the first opportunity to hit the slopes in 2005. Other South Island ski fields were also indicating June opening dates.

The weather outlook is for cold southerly winds and rain over the Queens Birthday holiday weekend, with snow down to 400m in the South Island.

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