As it happened: 'Big, big' tornado rips through Waikato town, sending roof flying

Severe weather is expected to batter the country, with several MetService weather warnings in place for strong winds and heavy rain nationwide.

Heavy downpours began blasting regions of the North Island on Monday afternoon - and the forecast doesn't look much better for Tuesday with forecasted thunderstorms, flooding and potential coastal tornadoes.

"Today's low pressure system will bring rain to almost everywhere in New Zealand," MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris says.

"As the low moves away most people will notice the cooler southwesterly winds sweeping over the country."

What you need to know:

  • Heavy rain warnings have been issued for Mount Taranaki, Nelson and northern Marlborough
  • Road snowfall warnings have been issued for Arthur's Pass (SH73), Lewis Pass (SH7) and Porters Pass (SH73) in the upper and central South Island
  • In the North Island, a heavy rain watch is in place for the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne ranges, central high country between Taranaki and the Bay of Plenty and north Taranaki
  • In the South Island, a heavy rain watch is in place for Buller, north Otago and Canterbury high country, Canterbury Plains south of the Rakaia River and Westland ranges
  • A strong wind watch has been issued for Auckland, including Great Barrier Island, until early evening 
  • Flooding from the Wairau River has closed SH63 in Marlborough. High tide and strong winds in Auckland has flooded a section of the busy Tamaki Drive 
  • A tornado has ripped through the rural Waikato community of Waihou, with one local telling Newshub a roof was ripped from a shed
  • Daytime highs in some southern coastal areas may even struggle to reach the teens as below average temperatures grip the country

These live updates have now finished.

5:28pm - Tuesday's wet weather has hampered efforts to find two bodies still missing after the White Island eruption, police said.

The police helicopter searched Taungawaka Bay on Tuesday afternoon, however bad weather prevented an earlier helicopter search. Weather conditions also prevented an earlier shoreline boat search, police said.

"Police will continue to focus on areas from Whakaari / White Island through to the East Cape based on tidal patterns and as the weather allows," Deputy Commissioner John Tims said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

The HMNZS Wellington has now left the area and been redeployed elsewhere, Tims said.

4:55pm - Brenda Taylor has sent in a photo showing some of the damage due to wild weather in the Waikato. The photo was taken near Te Aroha, Taylor said.

As it happened: 'Big, big' tornado rips through Waikato town, sending roof flying
Photo credit: Brenda Taylor

4:50pm - A slip in Nelson has closed State Highway 6, between Victoria St and Richardson St, according to NZTA.
"A detour has been set up but this is not suitable for heavy vehicle," the agency said.

4:31pm - Aucklanders are being warned that many beaches are unsafe to swim at following Tuesday's heavy downpours, due to the risk of faecal bacteria contamination. Read the full story here.

4:28pm - Slow down, turn your headlights on and drive to the conditions - that's the advice for Auckland motorists this afternoon, as the city is battered by heavy downpours.

4:24pm - The MetService has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for a large part of the North Island. The watch forecasts "periods of heavy rain and a few thunderstorms" and "localised downpours of 25 to 40mm/hr and possibly more".

The watch is in place until 9pm Tuesday evening.

4:11pm - The NZTA is warning motorists in Auckland to expect delays after a crash blocked the northbound lane of the southern motorway just after the Razorback Rd overbridge on State Highway 1. The crash has been cleared now, but motorists were still urged to take care and expect delays as congestion eases.

3:51pm - Weatherwatch says the downpours are "both good news and bad".

"Our farms, our market gardens our home gardens and rainwater tanks all need this rain," says forecaster Philip Duncan. "In fact as intense as it is, it's unlikely to make up for the rainfall deficit in many upper North Island areas but it will be very welcome. However, when rain is this heavy and slow-moving it can cause localised flooding and increase the chances of vehicle accidents and even water damage to property."

The downpours are expected to continue until Tuesday evening.

3:47pm - Weatherwatch is warning of the risk of flooding as slow-moving intense bands of rain move across the North Island. 

"Downpours heavy enough to cause localised flooding on roads, in basements and overwhelm gutters are a possibility across Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Coromandel Peninsula this afternoon and into early evening in some areas," Weatherwatch said.

Head forecaster Philip Duncan said the sub-tropical fulled rain bands were "evolving".

"When you have moisture-rich subtropical air combining with peak daytime heating plus a developing low moving in, it's the perfect recipe to create heavy downpours," Duncan said. "The rain bands are changing shape and size and intensity every few minutes as it slowly moves down the upper North Island".

3:20pm - Weatherwatch is warning of intense downpours crossing Auckland at the moment. 
"Falls are heavy enough to cause localised flooding," Weatherwatch said in a release.
The heavy rain is expected between 3pm and 4pm, but could linger.
Motorists are advised to take extreme care.

3:04pm - Some New Zealanders are growing weary of the less-than-summery conditions.

2:44pm - Bouts of thunder can be heard in the central Auckland/Eden Terrace area. The afternoon's risk of thunderstorms remains moderate, according to MetService, with a strong wind warning in place for the Auckland region.

Auckland's current temperature is sitting at a humid 21.6C, with heavy rain (13.7 mm/h) forecasted for 6pm.

Lanes have reopened on Tamaki Drive following flooding earlier this afternoon.

2:16pm - Thundery weather and lightning strikes are battering parts of the North Island and upper South Island.

1:51pm - Woulter says the tornado occurred shortly after 12pm and headed south over neighbouring farms. How long the tornado lasted is uncertain.

"Everyone is okay, the cows are okay. I rang every neighbour I have, everyone seems to be alright directly where it came through.

"When I saw that big funnel of branches come through, I thought, 'alright, I'm out of here'."

The farmer is currently using his tractor to help remove the fallen trees from his neighbours' driveways.

"It's pouring down here," he said.

"At least the power's still on."

A Fire and Emergency spokesperson said they haven't been called out to any tornado-related jobs so far.  

1:43pm - Dairy farmer Woulter van Kuijk has spoken to Newshub about the tornado. 

"I was just in the cow shed and it got very windy... I looked out and just saw a funnel of trees and branches up in the air. I jumped down into the cow shed and took over until it was over, and then went down and checked all the neighbours," he said.

"It snapped really big trees straight off... my neighbour's garage roof got torn of and the door was sucked in and crumpled. It smashed their ute window... across the road, trees were pushed over across my other neighbour's driveway. 

"It was just this little track of destruction."

Seddon Rd in Waihou, a rural farming community, was affected by Tuesday's tornado.
Seddon Rd in Waihou, a rural farming community, was affected by Tuesday's tornado. Photo credit: Google Maps

1:26pm - A Waihou local told Newshub "a big, big tornado" hit the small Waikato town, sending a tree flying across Seddon Rd and ripping a roof from a shed.

"My cousin called me and asked if I'm alright," she said.

"He saw a roof ripped from a shed and a tree has fallen over the road."

The claims match WeatherWatch's initial reports around 1pm.

1:02pm - A tornado has reportedly whipped through Waihou, near Te Aroha, in eastern Waikato.

A farmer who spoke to WeatherWatch said the "freaky" tornado has caused some chaos for locals, reportedly ripping off a garage roof and throwing a trampoline across several properties.

12:45pm - "Here comes the rain" for Wellington, as light to moderate showers hit the region. MetService's rain radar shows isolated heavy falls in scattered areas.

12:41pm - Eastern regions can expect rain on Wednesday, according to Country TV forecaster Philip Duncan.

"The main theme on Wednesday will be a temperature drop. We are going to see temperatures dropping below average around the south and eastern sides of both islands," he said.

12:29pm - National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has warned Kiwis to stay safe in the severe weather, advising the avoidance of non-essential travel and to stay clear of floodwaters when driving.

12:20pm - Flooding has been reported on Tamaki Drive in Auckland's Hobson Bay.

High tide and strong winds have flooded a section of the busy road between Ngapipi Rd and Gladstone Rd. 

AT warns motorists to expect delays and use alternate routes if possible.

12:11pm - Vector Crews say they are on standby for bad weather.

Additional crews are ready to respond to any power outages, according to Vector's Head of Network Field Services, Marko Simunac.

"We are actively monitoring the latest weather advice and our own data on network performance and have placed response crews and storm management teams in various locations around Auckland, ready to respond if necessary," he said.

"In weather such as this, strong wind gusts have the potential to damage power lines directly or cause vegetation and debris to blow onto lines. There is also an increased possibility of cars colliding with power poles in the wet."

Simunac said if the weather caused any power lines to come down, Vector would remotely shut down power to that area as a public safety precaution until crews arrive on site. 

Vector has reminded New Zealanders that all lines should be treated as live at all times. If you see any damaged power equipment or power lines down, please keep a safe distance away and report it to Vector on 0508 VECTOR.

12:01pm - SH63, the St Arnaud highway in Marlborough, has been closed due to flooding in the Wairau Valley on Tuesday morning.

The road is likely to remain closed overnight and into Wednesday due to heavy rain in the area.

"Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency closed SH63... after continuous rainfall raised the Wairau River's levels, overtopping onto the highway," the transport agency said.

Around 200m of highway is currently under deepening water, making it too dangerous for motorists.

The agency advises motorists heading for Blenheim or Picton from the west coast to go via Nelson and SH6.

The Wairau River has flooded SH63 in Marlborough.
The Wairau River has flooded SH63 in Marlborough. Photo credit: Supplied

11:47am - Small tornadoes may hit coastal areas of the upper North Island, with a moderate risk of thunderstorms forecasted for the Auckland region on Tuesday afternoon.

MetService predicts 10 to 25 mm/hr of rain for the area, with strong gusts of wind travelling at 90 to 110 km/hr. 

The central North Island is also carrying a moderate risk of afternoon thunderstorms. Small coastal tornadoes are possible and small amounts of hail are expected in certain areas.

Luckily for the east coast of the North Island, a low risk of thunderstorms means weather is likely to be better for eastern areas, with Hastings taking out Tuesday's top temperature. The low risk continues throughout the lower North Island.

Nelson and the Tasman District have a moderate risk of thundery weather, with rainfall forecasted between 10 to 20 mm/hr. 

Thunderstorm outlook for Tuesday.
Thunderstorm outlook for Tuesday. Photo credit: MetService

11:40am - Hastings has taken out the top temperature for Tuesday with a high of 25.6C while the lower South Island struggles to make it into the teens. 

11:33am - MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said Tuesday "looks to be a stormy one for a lot of the country with heavy rain and strong winds affecting many areas".

An intense low pressure system passing over the country is to blame for the heavy rain.

"We quickly move into a cooler southwest flow and it's not long before the next rain band whips up western areas of the South Island on Thursday."

Auckland and other northern areas remain at risk for thunderstorm activity with heavy downpours expected for the afternoon.

11:28am - "I had no idea the weather was going to be this amazingly bad," Aucklander Wendy Lester said on Twitter.

"I just heard the longest rolling thunder I have ever heard."

11:24am - A spokesperson for Taranaki Civil Defence Emergency Management said the team are "keeping an eye on things" but the weather has yet to present any serious hazards so far, despite the heavy rain warnings.

11:02am - Auckland's strong winds have sent a powerline crashing down in the central city suburb of Epsom, a Fire and Emergency (FENZ) spokesperson told Newshub.

A strong wind watch has been issued for the Auckland area, with MetService warning northeast winds may approach "warning criteria" in particularly exposed places. 

10:57am - Rain-producing clouds are extending from Northland to Southland.

10:47am - Below average temperatures are chilling the country, according to WeatherWatch. 

"Over the next week, at least three strong south to south-west changes [will be] moving through... it will usher in cooler Southern Ocean air, bringing below average daytime highs and colder nights over New Zealand," the weather agency said on Tuesday.

"This temperature drop to below normal may really stand out for some people and feel 'cold'."

WeatherWatch said daytime highs in some southern coastal areas may struggle to reach the teens on Tuesday and throughout the working week.

While the very top of the country remains relatively unaffected by the wild weather, decreasing humidity is set to chill the north with average temperatures.

10:32am - Summer snow is expected to hit areas of the South Island on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.

Snow showers in Porters Pass (SH73) in Canterbury are expected to affect the road between 10pm on Tuesday and 5am on Wednesday. MetService says 2-4cm of snow may settle on the road above 800 metres.

10:28am - Areas of Auckland are being battered by rain. Auckland Central can expect periods of heavy and thundery rain from Tuesday afternoon, MetService says.

10:15am - Two men were rescued on Tuesday morning after becoming trapped by the rising Aorere River in Golden Bay.

A spokesperson for Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter told Newshub the men were winched to safety after rescue helicopter crew dispatched around 6am. 

He said the team responded to a report by the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC).

10:02am - The Taranaki region may take the brunt of Tuesday's bad weather in the North Island, with a heavy rain warning in the Mount Taranaki area predicting a further 40 to 60mm  of northerly rain to accumulate on top of what has already fallen.

Thunderstorms in the area are possible. MetService warns that heavy rain may cause rivers and streams to rise rapidly, with surface flooding possible.

A heavy rain watch has also been issued in north Taranaki, warning of possible thunderstorms and periods of heavy rain on Tuesday night and afternoon. A warning may be issued. 

9:56am - Three road snowfall warnings are in place for the central South Island, including Arthur's Pass (SH73), Lewis Pass (SH7) and Porters Pass (SH73). A heavy rain watch has also been issued for Canterbury High Country, Canterbury Plains south of the Rakaia River and the Westland ranges.

One heavy rain watch is in place for the lower South Island, with MetService warning north Otago to expect "southeasterly rain, heavy at times". Amounts of rain may approach warning criteria.

9:45am - MetService has put three weather warnings in place for the upper South Island, with a heavy rain warning each for Nelson and northern Marlbourough. A road snowfall warning has been issued for Lewis Pass (SH7) and a heavy rain watch is in place for the Buller area.

9:30am - Areas around Mt Taranaki will see up to 140mm of rain over Tuesday, particularly in the afternoon. Streams and rivers may rise rapidly, with flooding and slips a possibility.

MetService warns residents to be aware of the conditions as it may make driving "hazardous".