Severe thunderstorm, snow and tornadoes wreak havoc across New Zealand


A complex low crossed New Zealand on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and destructive tornadoes, tens of thousands of lightning strikes and low-elevation snow. At least 30 000 homes were left without electricity. This was the season's first winter storm to hit the country.

Snow has been reported to have settled as low as 300 m (980 feet) over the east of the South Island Tuesday morning local time. As the low moves to the east of the country tonight, snow to 700 m (2 300 feet) will spread to the North Island, NZ Met Service said.

Outside of the snow, a burst of strong winds and heavy rain has also affected many regions in the North Island. 

"This period of intense weather is associated with an active trough preceding the low that is now moving east over Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay," the agency said early Tuesday. "A total of approximately 30 000 lightning strikes have been detected over the North Island so far today, with the highest density seen over Taranaki this morning between 07:00 – 09:00 local time."

Reports of damage to roofs and debris on the road by strong downbursts have been reported from Taranaki right through to the central plateau. MetService added that 4 500 lightning strikes lit up Taranaki sky within an hour, leaving more than 12 000 homes without power.

Overnight, a blanket of more than 75 cm (29.5 inches) of snow fell in much of the Canterbury plains and Mackenzie High Country, sending temperatures plummeting, TVNZ reported. 

Gusts of up 122 km/h (76 mph) were also recorded over Westport this morning and afternoon as the low center itself caused huge change in pressure across the ranges to the west. This pressure difference caused the winds to funnel through the valleys that lead to the West Coast and Buller.

Auckland was hit by wind gusts up to 130 km/h (81 mph) that shut down the airport, toppled trees and left up to 15 000 homes without power.

Trees were downed all over Auckland, New Zealand Herald said. One fell on a car in New North Road in Morningside, trapping a woman in the vehicle. She was taken to hospital with moderate injuries, the paper said, adding that numerous trees fell on homes all over the region.

At least three tornadoes were reported in North Island, two in Taranaki and the other in National Park Village.

Police said a tornado hit Rahotū, north-west of Ōpunake, Taranaki, at 07:20 local time. Radio New Zealand added that some homes were nearly destroyed and several had their roofs torn off. At least nine schools in the area closed for the day due to the weather.

People in National Park Village also reported a tornado had swept through, downing trees and power lines. Ruapehu Civil Defence said one unoccupied house on the corner of Turner Place and Buddo Street was destroyed.

Civil Defence spokesman Clive Manley said there were widespread reports of damage.

In the wake of the low, tomorrow showers are forecast to linger over the North Island and the northeast of the South Island, MetService said. In addition, strong southwesterlies and isolated thunderstorms are expected to affect the eastern coasts of the country as well as Northland.

Featured image: Damage after possible tornado hits Taranaki, New Zealand on April 10, 2018. Credit: Radio New Zealand

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One Comment

  1. The truck driver should never be allowed to drive again. Not only mucking about with a phone but refusing to drive safely or even, in the brief conditions, stopping altogether. An oncoming vehicle had what chance of survival? And our rotten culture thinks it heroic.

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