Today: Snow, icy winds and more downpours

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North Otago is set to be blasted today by blizzard conditions, significant windchill and up to 90mm of rain, which will add to existing flooding issues.

Strong winds forecast for today are also likely to impact on trees and powerlines, which could be affected by snow loading. MetService also warned of transport disruptions, hazardous driving conditions with strong wind gusts and possible stock losses.

The latest round of bad weather follows a week of floods, high rainfall, isolated residents, soggy paddocks and washed out roads and bridges. A snowfall warning is currently in place for Lindis Pass, where light snow is expected until this evening. Waitaki District Council emergency services manager Chris Raine said indications were that a reasonable amount of rain would fall in Waitaki ahead of the snow. “The forecast heavy snow will impact on areas of Waitaki above 300 metres tomorrow and Saturday,” he said. “There will be lesser amounts of snow lower down, possibly to sea level, with blizzard conditions in the strongest winds.

“Stock need to be behind shelter belts because the wind chill will be significant, and residents should limit travel and stock up with food and essential supplies as the roads are likely to close with the snow.”

Mr Raine said rivers in the North Otago catchments continued to recede but could rise following snow-melt.

“Farmers should keep stock and equipment off flood-prone areas,” he said. Emergency services and Civil Defence remained on standby and have been dealing with isolated families and welfare issues. “We have some families in the back of the Corriedale ward and up the Waitaki Valley who we have been checking on. “We want to make sure they are okay, but most appear to have been fairly resourceful and have managed to get out across flooded paddocks and damaged roads by tractor.” Tuesday’s brief lull in the wet and wild weather in North Otago provided an opportunity for people to visit the supermarket to stock up their food cupboards and lay in emergency supplies.

Northside New World owner James Backhouse said the numbers through the doors yesterday were close to what they would see before Christmas Day.

“We knew something was going to happen, so we upped our order early,” he said.

Mr Backhouse said their store was about 95 per cent full, with plenty of stock out back.

“There is no need to really panic,” he said. The store holds about 10 days’ worth of stock in grocery.

The supermarket’s bakery was making extra bread to meet demand, he said.

A Countdown spokesperson said all South Island deliveries were safely through yesterday morning.

“Our stores have certainly experienced heavy demand today for basics. “We appreciate some customers are concerned about the potential impact of the weather over the next few days, and we’re working hard to make sure it’s business as usual and have extra stock planned for delivery tomorrow.”

For the SouthRoads staff it had been a “very busy” week, according to Oamaru branch manager Russell den Dulk.

“There is a lot of damage, including gouged out roads and damaged bridges, including one gone completely,” he said. “Right now, we are focusing on getting access into isolated and affected properties, so people can get in and out.

“We are also evaluating the extent of the damage.”

With the next bout of bad weather scheduled to bring snow to the region, Mr den Dulk said SouthRoads was ready.

“We have a couple of snowploughs and four graders, plus the trucking fleet and the staff, so we are well prepared for the next round of bad weather,” he said.

“Gritting ice-affected roads will also be done as and when necessary.”

Waitaki District Council (WDC) assets group manager Neil Jorgensen said the full amount of the damage bill had yet to be totalled, but to date was looking like it was in the region of $750,000, without repairs to affected bridges.

“One of our current priorities is to get the ford operational in place of the lost bridge in Dansey’s Pass, and to evaluate damage and repairs to other bridges,” he said. “The damage bill will vary widely and will certainly be affected if we get more rain.”

WDC engineers were moving quickly to ensure the district’s rural water supplies reached as many as possible. They were shut down due to this week’s floods.

WDC water and wastewater assets manager Marty Pacey said: “Although turning some of these supplies back on yesterday wasn’t ideal in terms of the discolouration caused by the flooding, WDC wants to ensure residents have access to water in case of any disruption caused by snowfalls.”

For residents hooked up to the Herbert-Waianakarua, Hampden-Moeraki and Kauru Hill supplies, the wait will be a bit longer. According to Mr Pacey, these will not be back on for at least another three days, due to the level of flooding and sedimentation at the supply intakes.

“However, we are providing water tankers in the areas to ensure people have access to water,” he said. The location of the tankers is available on the WDC website and on page 9 of today’s paper.

“Residents on supplies which are turned back on should also continue to conserve and boil water until otherwise advised.”

Otago Civil Defence and Emergency management group public information manager Peter Taylor said people should keep in mind snowfalls were likely to cause widespread disruption to roads, especially about alpine passes and higher level roads.

“People should keep up to date with the latest forecasts and warnings, stay off the roads when they are dangerous, and drive only if it is absolutely necessary,” he said. “If people have to travel, they should be well prepared and have snow chains, sleeping bags, warm clothing and essential emergency items at the ready.

“Drivers caught in a snowstorm should stay in the vehicle and not venture outside; run their engine every 10 minutes to keep warm; drink fluids to avoid dehydration; and open the window a little to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Forecasters say conditions are expected to ease slowly from the south during Saturday and Sunday.

By Jessie Waite and Jacquie Webby