October snow falls in Christchurch for first time in 53 years; polar blast sweeps through South Island, Wellington – cold temperatures in Auckland. Video / Supplied
Central Otago fruit growers are stressed about a polar blast that brought snow to sea level elsewhere in the South.
Central Otago Winegrowers Association general manager Jake Tipler said yesterday’s chill had not been heavy enough to ruin the season, but growers were not out of the woods yet.
Because the cold was caused by pockets of Antarctic air moving north, the frost-fighting wind machines typically used by growers did not work well.
While optimistic, damage would not be clear until later in the growing season, Tipler said.
Bannockburn winegrower James Dicey said things were “not great” yesterday afternoon.
With more cold temperatures forecast overnight, many more people would also be stressed, he said.
His dam was almost completely drained fighting yesterday’s frost and would take two days to fill. A helicopter had been hired, he said.
The only upside was that the situation would have been much worse had the cold snap hit a week later, Dicey said.
Cromwell fruitgrower Simon Webb said there was extensive damage to his crop of apricots which “took a big hit”.
North Otago Federated Farmers president Jared Ross said the cold front was “not ideal” because lambing had begun on Waitaki high country stations a day or two ago.
Some lambs would be lost, but the full extent of losses would not be known until later in the week.
One positive was that the cold snap had added a bit of moisture to the ground and little irrigation had been needed, Ross said.
In Dunedin, some played in the snow while others were affected by a spate of crashes on snow-stricken streets.
Senior Station Officer Ant O’Neill, of Dunedin City Station, said fire crews attended several car crashes around the city yesterday morning, none of which were serious.
St John coastal Otago area operations manager Doug Third said the snow had not significantly affected services in Otago, although the closure of State Highway87 meant a helicopter had to be dispatched to assist a patient in Middlemarch.
A Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency spokesman said most of the South Island routes closed due to snow had reopened by early yesterday afternoon, but drivers were still being urged to take care, given the likelihood of cold overnight temperatures.
A Dunedin City Council spokesman said many of its facilities were closed yesterday morning but were expected to be open normal hours today.
MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said the spring snow which affected large parts of the South was unusual but not unprecedented.
An unusually heavy snowfall in September 2010 resulted in the roof of the Invercargill stadium collapsing.
Severe cold weather would continue to reduce throughout October and into November.
Temperatures would still be chilly today but would likely return to normal over the weekend, Ferris said.
A few places in the South Island had set records for lowest recorded temperatures, including Wanaka Airport, which recorded -3C yesterday morning, the coldest October temperature since records began in 1992.
University of Otago School of Geography Associate Professor Nicolas Cullen said climate change meant the likelihood of snow falling in Dunedin in October would reduce in the future, but there was some evidence that rapid unpredictability in weather patterns could become more prominent.