Watch: Witnesses in awe of 'massive' tornado north of Ashburton

Ashburton locals watched in awe on Sunday afternoon as a sizeable tornado moved through the area.

Multiple people sent in videos to Newshub showing a towering column of air in the sky just north of the Canterbury town.

Local woman Alesha Plew says she and her husband drove out of Ashburton into a huge storm just before 4pm.

"There were balls of hail that were probably the size of ice cubes," she told Newshub. 

"My husband was driving and he said 'what's that?' We looked up and there was this massive tornado thing that was sucking dirt up from the field.

"We were wondering if we should have been driving past it. It was quite amazing."

The couple was worried the tornado might get too close for comfort.

"It was quite scary because it was moving towards the State Highway. When we first saw it it was a couple of fields away, but by the time we were next to it, it was probably about 5m from the car. We were driving through the side of it, with dirt and debris spiralling around the car. It was scary."

The fearsome sight could be seen by motorists on State Highway 1 just before 4pm.

A MetService spokesperson told Newshub there's a line of thunderstorms passing through the region.

"Whenever there's a thunderstorm, there's a risk of a tornado forming."

Radar indicates heavy hail will also afflict the area, and MetService is warning residents against driving - particularly high-sided vehicle and motorcycles - until the storm passes.

"Tornadoes can blow out windows, lift roofs, break large branches off trees, generate dangerous flying debris and blow vehicles off the road," MetService said in a statement.

The spokesperson said they couldn't recall a tornado ever having been reported in the area before.

There is the possibility it could be a funnel cloud rather than a fully-fledged tornado, which is more common. However the dramatic footage would seem to indicate it's the real deal.


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