Southerly Blast

A southerly blast swept through the south of New Zealand yesterday, bringing snow, sleet, hail and freezing temperatures. Southland had the worst of the front as it headed north, with up to 30cm of snow in Fiordland, 15cm in inland Southland and up to 5cm in Invercargill. MetService weather forecaster Ian Miller said the bad weather was likely to continue and it would be bitterly cold. There was a snow warning and further showers were forecast, with the possibility of snow showers to low levels. Snow and hail is common in Southland but snow in November is very unusual and probably a once in 20-year event.

Snow forced the Tour of Southland cycle officials to shorten the race after the worst conditions it has seen in more than 50 years. Tour leader Gordon McCauley had never seen anything like it. He said he had never seen such bad conditions in his 22 years of bike racing and he was happy when it started snowing because the snow doesn’t hurt as much as the hail. One rider was taken by ambulance to Southland Hospital after a crash during the morning, while an Australian rider was treated for hypothermia.

The vineyard owners were fearful the frost and snow would damage vines and could cause them to lose a lot of money. Crawford Brown, owner of a vineyard in Central Otago said if the vines were damaged, it would be “devastating for the season”. Sometimes, vineyard owners pay for helicopters to fly above and make a wind which stops the frost from settling on the vines. In the past, vineyard owners used smoke pots: they lit smoky fires to stop the frost but this causes air pollution so it is not used much these days.

Two schools closed for the day as the buses were not running and Milford Road was temporarily closed. Southern police reported no serious accidents but advised motorists to be careful.

Contributed by Anita Jones