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FAQ: Heavy Snow coming to both North & South Islands this week, travel likely to be affected

We’re into the depths of winter now with moisture meeting the cold next week creating heavy snow in both islands – and to low levels in the South Island.

Southland and Otago may see snow falling as low as around Dunedin and near/around Invercargill. At this early stage believes the snow won’t be reaching sea level, or at least not settling there and causing issues.

However the low level and heaviness of this snow may cause travel problems through the South Island and central North Island and, depending on timing, there is certainly the risk snow cause transport issues in Dunedin, even to sea level (again, timing will be key for that).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is happening and when?
On Tuesday a deep low a few thousand kilometres south of the South Island will send a burst of moisture and cold air from over the Southern Ocean into the South Island. This will push snow to very low levels in the lower half of the South Island and produce widespread heavy snow above 200m.

It will spread into the North Island on Wednesday and Thursday where it will push into a low centred over the North Island bringing moisture rich air from just north of the country back down and into the colder air. This rain will be fed in via an easterly quarter flow, placing the Hawke’s Bay ranges and Central Plateau areas at risk of heavy snow for a couple of days where the southerly meets.

Where will the snow fall?
Please note snow may be brief and not even settle for some, for others it may be heavier and settle for days. Just like with rain and showers, snow can be patchy and therefore heavier for some while others nearby may completely miss out. This is not a major storm – but it is possibly the lowest snow fall of the year so far. Snow at higher altitudes (ie above 200 or 300m) may be quite widespread in the South Island and above 400 or 500m in the North Island.

Which main centres will get snow?
At this stage believes the following main centres may get snow for a time on Tuesday:
South Island: Dunedin, Gore, Alexandra, Queenstown, Cromwell, Arrowtown, Wanaka and possibly Ashburton overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday AM. (We may not have listed all towns, but if you live in the area no doubt you get the idea).

Christchurch – at this stage – is unlikely to get snow, but we’ll monitor it. Snow in Canterbury may be down to 200m but again, like rain, amounts and snow levels will vary across regions due to the mountains and ranges, coastal conditions and wind/air flows at the time…and timing will matter too, overnight has a higher chance of pushing snow down to lower levels.

North Island: Waiouru, Ohakune, Taihape are all highly likely to receive snow, so too National Park. Stratford and Eketahuna both have some chance. Taupo is not expected to get snow but it will be nearby and low on Mt Tauhara and surrounding plateau/hills. 

Which highways may be affected?
Many South Island highways will be affected around Southland, Otago, Canterbury and through/over the Southern Alps for a time. ALL ALPINE HIGHWAYS are likely to get snow at some point and some may be closed. State Highways and side roads in Dunedin may be impacted for a time but it’s unclear how heavy it will be and at what altitude – we will really need to wait until Monday to lock that in. Dunedin, being coastal and hilly is always a tricky place to lock in for these borderline sea-level snow events (and this is borderline for sea level by about a degree or two).

In the North Island SH2 over the Rimutaka Ranges is likely to be impacted, perhaps on Wednesday night. SH1 the Desert Road is HIGHLY LIKELY to receive snow, as too are ALL HIGHWAYS AROUND MT RUAPEHU. If snow closes the Central Plateau highways lengthy detours will go via Hawke’s Bay or Taranaki. SH5 from Napier to Taupo will also likely be impacted by snow on Wednesday or Thursday with snow expected to fall down to Rangitaiki.

Which airports may be impacted?
Hard to say as airlines, airports and pilots make decisions on whether they will fly or not, but it’s fair to say the weather could impact flights/airports at Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown. This may therefore impact some other flights/airports anywhere in NZ, especially if snow grounds any planes at an airport.

Which ski fields will get snow?
Every single one of them! Oh, with the exception of Auckland’s indoors Snow Planet 🙂 

How far north will the snow fall?
The Gisborne ranges and probably the Coromandel Peninsula and Kaimai Range peaks.

Is it a storm?
No it is not. In the South Island it’s a fairly straight forward snowy/cold period of weather for July. It’s definitely worth warning about though, especially for farmers and those who need to use the highways and airports. However as the cold change moves into the North Island things get far more complicated due to a large low expected there mid-next week. This low will be pulling in winds north of the country for a time, this will add moisture (and warmth) into the rain over the North Island – but there will be a line where the colder southerly moves into this moisture and therefore snow could be quite heavy in the North Island ranges and mountains for a couple of days. One to monitor as this is a bit unpredictable, especially 4 or 5 days out.

What’s the timing of it again?
– Starts Tuesday AM in Southland and Otago.
– Reaches Canterbury into Tuesday PM and Wednesday AM.
– Wednesday PM, across Thursday and early Friday AM for the North Island ranges and Central Plateau.

Government agency MetService is funded by the NZ taxpayers to provide warnings. Please keep up to date with their information too.

When’s’s next update on this?
– Our 1500 forecasts + hourly forecasts for every one of those 1500 locations
are updated hourly. (thanks to Wunderground) 

A tip for the hourly forecasts: Once temperatures get down to about 3 or 4 degrees with over 40% chance of rain that’s when snow is possible (if there is no mention of snow in the general text forecast…for some areas the snow may only be briefly overnight so this won’t be captured in a general day time forecast). Snow is highly likely when moisture levels are above 60% with air temperatures below +2C degrees. will have another FAQ like this, freshly updated, on Monday – plus video updates too each day next week for those who need information for travel and farming reasons in particular.

 You can search our 1500 forecasts herethey cover basically every small Kiwi Community, City Suburb and NZ Town in the North Island, South Island, Stewart Island, GBI, Waiheke and even the Chathams.

All forecasts go 10 days out with additional hourly forecasts for every single day – and all include % of rain (which if the air temp is below +4C may turn to snow, especially +2C and below). is New Zealand’s only weather forecaster to have such detail freely available to the public thanks to our partnership and power of global giants Wunderground/IBM along with our eyes and ears based in every region here in New Zealand.

– Tuesday’s Future Rain/Snow Radar shows a low hugging the Antarctic coastline and sending a cold front into the lower South Island, eventually reaching the North Island Weds/Thurs (at this stage). A high pressure system should come in behind this for a short time (a couple of days) bringing frosts but drier weather. This Map courtesy Weathermap.  See 10 days of Future Rain Radar by clicking.tapping here.

–, New Zealand’s weather news & forecast authority.


Andrew on 8/07/2017 4:36am

Good stuff Weatherwatch. Everything we need to know is in there and with language that is appropriate. (No talk of ‘Antartic’s Icy Talon’s’ with you guys).
I’m looking forward to the first decent southerly outbreak of the year!

Zelda on 8/07/2017 3:20am

Would be nice if we got a little snow like in 2011 August 🙂

WW Forecast Team on 8/07/2017 3:47am

Hi Zelda, We need a very different set up for that. In Aug 2011 there was an ENORMOUS high over Tasmania that stretched North to South from the Papua New Guinea all the way down to Antarctica – and then to the SE of Dunedin was a deep low. It was these two systems that together dredged up Antarctic air (and snow!) as far north as Northland…and in fact the Antarctic air made it all the way up to the tropical islands!  This event is a baby compared to that 🙂 Auckland gets snow about once every 30 years (based on the past 100 years history – so not a huge amount of time to go by, but a basic pattern has somewhat been identified). 

Cheers 🙂 
– Phil D

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