‘Once in a lifetime’ snow storm hits New Zealand

Paul Chapman in Wellington  – Telegraph.co.uk August 15, 2011

Blizzards lashing the South Island moved on to the more populated North Island, with falls in central Wellington and southern suburbs of Auckland where snow had not been seen since the mid-1970s.

Some flights were grounded, stranding hundreds of passengers in Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, while road transport was thrown into chaos as major traffic arteries became impassable in both islands.

State Highway One, the main road link between the capital Wellington and Auckland, the largest city, was severed when snow blanketed the Mt Ruapehu volcanic plateau in the centre of the North Island.

In the South Island, the skiing and adventure tourism resort of Queenstown was cut off.

Emergency services in four-wheel drive vehicles and a snow plough managed to free more than 100 people who were trapped after nightfall in their cars on a treacherous road over the Rimutaka Hills, north of Wellington.

Inspector Mike Coleman said police officers had earlier urged people to stay in their vehicles rather than get out and walk.

Cold weather also created headaches for commuters around the capital as train services were disrupted.

Snow fell on parliament buildings in Wellington for the first time many people could remember.

In Auckland, four people were taken to hospital after a tree crashed on to their home in high winds.

Forecasters described the storm as “a once in many decades event”.

Philip Duncan, from the WeatherWatch service, told the New Zealand Herald: “I’ve been watching the weather closely for about 15 years and I’ve never seen a prediction like this.”

He said the intensely cold weather was due to a large high pressure system stretching from Antarctica to the sub-tropics, which had merged with three neighbouring low-pressure systems.

Stephen Fry, the actor, who is in Wellington filming The Hobbit, took to Twitter.

“It’s been an exciting day here in Wellington.” he told fans.

“Snow. That’s unusual. NZ is same latitude as Melbourne so it’s rare.”

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