Severe hailstorm hammers Canterbury, New Zealand

Severe hailstorm hammers Canterbury, New Zealand

Over 1 500 lightning strikes pummeled the South Island during a six-hour storm that hammered Canterbury, with destructive hailstones around 4.3 cm (1.7 inches) in diameter hitting Timaru on Wednesday, November 20, 2019. It was the second storm to hit the region in three days, following a damaging tornado that ripped through Christchurch on Monday, November 18.

Reports described hail the size of golf balls, which smashed windows, damaged roofs, and dented vehicles when the front landed before noon.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) mid-South Canterbury area commander Steven Greenyer said they had received 50 callouts in the afternoon. "Twenty-one of those have been for hail or rain damage."

Two crews of off duty and nine firefighters were called back to help. "We crewed up two spare trucks and put them on the road."

One person who sustained a minor hail-related injury has been discharged, the duty nurse confirmed.

Autoworld Timaru director Chris Churchward said 100 cars were dented at his yard. There were broken windscreens and damaged wing mirrors. By 03:30 UTC, the hailstorm had reached Ashburton.

An NZ Transport Agency spokesperson urged drivers to take safety measures when hitting the road. "For anyone encountering thunderstorms or hail and lightning in Canterbury today, please be prepared to stop/pause your journey in a safe place for a while if you are able."

Residents said the impact of the storm sounded like "someone hitting a sledgehammer against sheet metal right beside my head." No reports of injury or damage were recorded in Christchurch.

At Christchurch Airport, an employee witnessed a bolt of lightning behind an Emirates A380 aircraft that had touched down around 04:30 UTC. "It quite often stops the odd meeting at work as it comes by but today with the storm and the timing of the lightning it made for an awesome show," he said.

Another employee named Billie Hammet also witnessed a close call. "The planes were all waiting to unload but couldn't because of the weather so [we] were just waiting on the tarmac for clearance and there were multiple lightning strikes. Everyone was fine, nothing caught fire but looks like a close call."

For a short period, passengers were advised to stay inside the terminal.

Featured image credit: @kiwisurfa/Twitter

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