New Zealand hit by heaviest snowfall in decades

08/16/2011 20:59

WireUpdate:  WELLINGTON (BNO NEWS) -- Heavy snow fell in many parts of the North and South Islands of New Zealand on Monday, causing major disruption, closing schools, roads and airports, the local daily New Zealand Herald reported on Tuesday.

Forecasters have said that more snow is expected to strike much of the country later on Tuesday, turning the novelty into far more treacherous conditions. The blizzards have already caused a number of car accidents as well as power outages in hundreds of houses which were left in very cold conditions.

Meanwhile, severe disruptions are again expected on Tuesday for schools, businesses and travelers, the New Zealand Herald warned. Many state highways around the country are closed, including the Desert Road and Rimutaka Hill road on the North Island and the Lewis Pass and Arthurs Pass on the South Island.

The Ministry of Education said it was up to individual schools to decide whether to open on Tuesday after snow and ice forced many schools to close on Monday. Christchurch airport reopened on Tuesday while Queenstown and Dunedin airports were closed on Tuesday morning.

MetService head forecaster Peter Kreft told New Zealand Press Agency (NZPA) that the polar blast was "of the order of a 50 year'' event and warned it could last for several more days.

Meanwhile, climate scientist Georgina Griffiths of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said Monday was the coldest day ever recorded in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.

The last time snow settled on the ground in Auckland was in 1939. However, overall temperatures in New Zealand were colder and the quantity of snow was a lot worse in the 1930 event, according to weather historian Erick Brenstrom.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key commented on "the very uncharacteristic weather" during his post-Cabinet press conference. Describing the capital as a "winter wonderland", Key said it was the first time he could recall seeing snow fall in downtown Wellington, New Zealand's capital.

As the polar blast is set to worsen in many parts of the country, the Prime Minister asked people to be cautious and careful.

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