An Early Wave of Winter

May 21, 2017

A taste of winter fell onto New Zealand on Saturday, with many towns in the lower South Island waking up to snow on their doorsteps.  Although snow depths were deeper at higher altitudes, 12cm was recorded in Kingston (330m), and in Clinton (200m) 3cm was recorded. Snowmen rolled into life from Dunedin to Balfour, and both SH87 and SH1 were closed north of Dunedin due to snow.  The snow-baring front reached the North Island later in the day, and was sufficient to close the Desert Road and leave a dusting on the hills from Wellington to the Bay of Plenty.

The snow fell from a cold front, which was followed by strong southwesterly winds.  These winds have whipped up a sizeable swell in the Southern Ocean, the peak of which is due to reach New Zealand’s eastern coastline today.  A wave buoy in the Cook Strait has been recording average wave heights of five to six metres throughout Sunday, with the biggest waves as much as eleven metres.  High tide – which rotates around New Zealand in an anticlockwise direction – reaches Wellington at 12.30pm today, and will bring the highest risk of inundation for coastal roads in the area.  High tide then works its way north, with the maximum risk reaching Gisborne an hour later at 1.30pm.  Although swells will have reduced by the following high tide tonight, motorists are advised to drive with caution on coastal roads.

This image shows forecast average wave height at midday today, with a peak just east of the country.

The roads will also hold hazards in the form of ice tonight as temperatures plummet to what for many could be the coldest night of the year so far.  Saturday night was also cold for several towns, with Waiouru dropping to -6.5C and Mt Cook airfield to -5.7C.  “Cloud that kept eastern parts warmer last night will have moved off tonight, so many parts of New Zealand will record sub-zero temperatures tonight” commented meteorologist Tom Adams, “This will bring frosts as far north as Northland, and icy roads countrywide.”

Looking ahead, settled weather continues into the start of next week. Temperatures pick up on Tuesday as the winds swing around to the northwest and a spell of patchy rain returns to western parts. Showers will spread to other parts during the week, but the risk of further severe weather this week is low.

Official Severe Weather Watches and Warnings are reviewed and re-issued by MetService at least every twelve hours, and more often if necessary. To get the most up to date information on severe weather around the country, or any other forecasts, see or on mobile devices at You can also follow our updates on MetService TV, at MetService New Zealand on Facebook@metservice  and @MetServiceWARN on Twitter and at

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