Weather: Antarctic blast sweeps New Zealand, bringing bitter cold, powerful swells, snow to North Island

The local state of emergency has officially been lifted in Wellington as the southerly swells from Tuesday's storm subside.

The Antarctic blast has wreaked havoc across New Zealand this week, bringing snowfall, powerful swells and strong winds to a number of regions in both the North and South Island.

Aucklanders woke up to a bitterly cold morning on Wednesday after shivering through one of the coldest nights of the year, with overnight temperatures plummeting into the minuses across the country.

Huge waves continued to pound the capital's southern coastline this morning. High tides and mighty swells saw 141 properties evacuated and several properties damaged as the surging waves breached sea walls and flooded coastal roads. But as of Wednesday afternoon, all evacuated residents have been able to return - and the swells are set to ease considerably.

Tuesday's tidal storm is said to be the worst in eight years.

These live updates have now finished.

Current weather warnings

Heavy swell warning: Wellington's south coast.

(Accurate as of 12pm).

What you need to know

  • "the threat is not over" for Wellington as large waves continue to lash at the southern coastline, with high tide posing the "highest risk", says MetService
  • crews are working to clear roadway debris this morning after 6.5m waves crashed along the coastline overnight, forcing 141 homes to be evacuated
  • bone-chilling temperatures plummeted into the minuses overnight, with Auckland shivering through one of the coldest nights of the year
  • evacuated Breaker Bay residents on the capital's south coast have been given the all-clear to return to their homes
  • at least one property has suffered damage due to the swells as large waves continue to overtop sea walls, with crews working to pump seawater from another in Ōwhiro Bay
  • Breaker Bay Rd and Ōwhiro Bay Parade remain closed to traffic
  • Interislander has cancelled all Cook Strait crossings on Wednesday as conditions will be too dangerous
  • the local state of emergency has officially been lifted.

1:30pm - The local state of emergency has been lifted in Wellington with the wild weather set to finally ease.

Mayor Andy Foster and Wellington City Civil Defence Controller Derek Baxter formally ended the local state of emergency in Breaker Bay on Wednesday afternoon as the swells from Tuesday's southerly storm subside.

Motorists and pedestrians are still urged to take care on roads around Wellington's south coast as contractors continue to clear up debris.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster terminating the declaration.
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster terminating the declaration. Photo credit: Newshub

12:15pm - The state of emergency for Wellington's southern coast remains in place and will be reassessed on Wednesday afternoon.

"We're past high tide. The waves are starting to quieten down, but there's still a lot of power in the water," Wellington Mayor Andy Foster told reporters on Wednesday morning.

Dan Neely, acting regional manager of Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office, said the capital had been "lucky" so far, Stuff reports. He said if the direction of the waves and wind speed had been different on Tuesday night, the situation likely would have been much more serious.

MetService's heavy swell warning for Wellington's south coast is valid until 11pm on Wednesday.

An update on the swell warning will be issued by 2pm.

12pm - Over the last few days, the terms 'Antarctic blast' or 'polar blast' have been emblazoned across the headlines - but what exactly does this mean?

According to MetService, this is essentially a wave of air travelling up from Antarctica, Earth's southernmost continent. The polar blast is rolling over New Zealand this week, bringing with it powerful swells, strong winds and snowfall. 

The cold air first settled over the South Island earlier this week, but quickly muscled its way north on Tuesday with snow reported across the central and lowert North Island.

Strengthening southerly winds across the South Island generated the powerful waves seen along the capital's southern coastline on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"These are very large,high-energy waves, and can catch people unawares if they're walking on beaches or driving along coastal roads. There's also the potential for waves to affect land or property near coasts," MetService meteorologist Alwyn Bakker explained.

The winds driving the swells can also pose a threat. Although they are no longer active on Wednesday, MetService had issued a spate of wind watches on Tuesday, warning of gales in several exposed areas.

The cold temperatures will remain even after the snow dissipates, says MetService, with settled weather paving the way for overnight temperatures to plummet. Expect frosts with single-digit or sub-zero temperatures - it's certainly time to get out all the winter woollies.

11:50am - Here's a brief forecast from MetService:

Taranaki across to Taupo and Bay of Plenty northwards

Fine with morning frosts. A few showers developing about the eastern areas of Northland tomorrow evening.

Gisborne and Hawke's Bay

Cloudy with showers about the coast, spreading inland early morning. Showers retreating north of Gisborne city later tomorrow and becoming fine elsewhere.

Whanganui to Wellington and Wairarapa, including Taihape

Cloudy periods and isolated showers spreading north this afternoon and evening, then clearing in the morning and becoming fine.

Marlborough south of Blenheim, also North Canterbury and Christchurch

A few showers, clearing early morning then fine.

The remainder of Marlborough and Canterbury, also Nelson, Buller, Westland and Otago excluding Dunedin

Fine with morning frosts.

Dunedin, Southland and Fiordland

Cloudy periods with a few showers, clearing Southland and Dunedin overnight tonight.

Chatham Islands

Showers with hail, easing this afternoon.

(Issued at 10:58am).

11:30am - Hamilton is the coldest place in the North Island on Wednesday after temperatures plummeted to below 0C overnight.

The Waikato city was sitting at just -2.1C earlier this morning, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

Matamata also recorded temperatures of -2.1C, with Rotorua not much warmer.

Warkworth, a town located in the far north of the Auckland region, also dropped into the minuses at just -0.9C.

MetService also revealed which places recorded their coldest nights of the year so far, with Auckland Airport barely scraping past 1C.

11:20am - Heavy swells are still expected along the Wairarapa coast, the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) has reiterated.

Cape Palliser Rd remains closed at Te Kopi and at the Department of Conservation station at Huripi river. Hinekura Rd remains closed as of 11am. Further assessment will be done completed this morning.  

All roads are open in Lower Hutt. Hutt City Council contractors were out clearing debris littered across the roads this morning.

11:10am - Wellington City Council has shared some photos of the damage and debris at weather-beaten Ōwhiro Bay, one of the southern coastal areas hardest hit by the ongoing tidal surges.

Weather: Antarctic blast sweeps New Zealand, bringing bitter cold, powerful swells, snow to North Island
Photo credit: Wellington City Council

10:57am - Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has confirmed that Fire and Emergency (FENZ) crews are working with locals to pump seawater out of one home in Ōwhiro Bay.

The property was inundated with water as sizeable waves continue to overtop sea walls, flooding coastal roads and encroaching on nearby homes.

Foster also confirmed the state of emergency remains in place and will be assessed later today.

10:45am - Wellington City Civil Defence Controller Derek Baxter has made the call to allow evacuated residents back to their homes in Breaker Bay immediately.

Breaker Bay Rd will remain closed to traffic for another several hours until crews have cleared debris from the roadway.

"Large waves are still overtopping the seawall in one section of Ōwhiro Bay Parade and the road will remain closed to through traffic, but residents can come and go," Baxter said in an update.

Several large swells have crossed the road in the past hour and caused damage to at least one house. Fire crews and contractors have been on-hand to help pump seawater from one property.

Motorists and pedestrians are asked to take care and drive to the conditions when travelling along the south coast.

10:35am - Residual cold air from this week's polar blast will be locked in by high pressure drifting over from across the ditch - spelling icy temperatures and frosty mornings for much of the country, says WeatherWatch.

The high pressure zone is expected to bring milder daytime weather to most regions, a welcome respite from the bone-chilling wind of recent days.

However, it might be time to dig out the electric blankets. The nights will be getting chillier, says WeatherWatch - and without any wind or cloud to lock in the daytime heat, residual warmth will escape quickly and evaporate overnight.

"Frosty weather is forecast as far north as the Bombay Hills - and in some pockets frosts may again occur in some inland spots of the Auckland region too," said a spokesperson for the agency.

"Waikato looks especially cold, likely the coldest region for overnight lows in the coming days for the North Island."

10:10am - In case you missed it - Rimutaka Hill Rd (SH2) is now open in the Wellington region. A road snowfall warning issued by MetService on Tuesday continued to remain in place early this morning, but is now no longer active. 

Waka Kotahi NZTA urges motorists to drive to the conditions.

9:55am - State Highway 87 from Kyeburn to Outram in Otago continues to remain closed due to heavy snowfall on Tuesday.

Three ploughs and a loader are being used in a bid to shift the snow.

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is also urging motorists in central Otago to take extra care on the roads on Wednesday due to black ice. 

"Due to forecasted low temperatures, there is a black ice warning in place. Road users are advised to take extra care whilst travelling in this area."

The thin sheet of transparent ice is known to be particularly dangerous on the roads as it's not visible to motorists. When hit at speed, black ice can be extremely slippery. 

Bruce Rd in the Manawatu-Whanganui region is closed until further notice due to snow and ice in the area.

Motorists travelling along SH2 from Opotiki to Gisborne (via Waioeka Gorge) in the Bay Of Plenty are urged to take extra caution due to snow and ice conditions.

9:40am - To recap - high tide is now swamping Wellington's storm-ravaged south coast, with heavy swells continuing to pose a threat to property and coastal roads.

Crews had a big job on their hands clearing debris from the coastline this morning, washed ashore by last night's colossal waves.

As southerly 6m swells continue to batter the shoreline on Wednesday morning, Wellington City Civil Defence Controller, Derek Baxter, says officials are taking a precautionary approach.

"The risk profile is worse than high tide last night due to the wave energy," he said earlier this morning.

The local state of emergency declared on Tuesday afternoon currently remains in force and is set to be reviewed later today.

9:30am - Pictures taken by Newshub reporters in Wellington show debris scattered along Ōwhiro Bay on the south coast, the area hardest hit by the ongoing swells and surging waves.

Weather: Antarctic blast sweeps New Zealand, bringing bitter cold, powerful swells, snow to North Island
Photo credit: Newshub

High tide hit the south coast at 9:18am, with another forecast for 9:48am. 

Owhiro Bay.
Owhiro Bay. Photo credit: Newshub

9:18am - According to MetService, high tide should be hitting Wellington's south coast now. 

It's understood emergency teams are currently on standby as high tide spells the "highest risk" for heavy swells. 

The agency is warning that waves are likely to overtop sea walls along swell-and-surf exposed coastlines, potentially causing damage to property and littering roads with debris. 

A monster wave up to 15m in height reportedly rolled into Wellington Harbour overnight as the 6m swells hammered the coastline.

9am - Some residents along Wellington's wave-ravaged south coast were "very reluctant" to vacate their homes last night as the wild weather continued to escalate.

A number had expressed concern about leaving their properties overnight, WREMO regional manager Jeremy Holmes told The AM Show on Wednesday morning.

Overall, 141 homes were evacuated, with local police knocking on each door to ensure at-risk residents had vacated their properties.

"Some individuals were very reluctant to leave for various reasons," Holmes said. "Police were working to reassure them... it's something we will be following up this morning."

It' understood local officers maintained a presence throughout the night to protect vacant properties from potential looting.

The cordon in place at Breaker Bay during the early morning along Wellington's wave-ravaged south coast.
The cordon in place at Breaker Bay during the early morning along Wellington's wave-ravaged south coast. Photo credit: Newshub

8:55am - Desert Rd (SH1) is now open.

"Thank you for your patience while the road was closed due to snow and ice. Please continue to take extra care and drive to the conditions."

8:45am - Breaker Bay Rd will remain closed to all traffic, including residents, until a safety review is undertaken at 10am.

Wellington City Civil Defence Controller, Derek Baxter, says he is taking a precautionary approach based on the advice from MetService and NIWA. Large southerly swells will continue to hit Wellington's south coast during high tide this morning.

"The risk profile is worse than high tide last night due to the wave energy," Baxter said.

The local state of emergency declared on Tuesday afternoon will be reviewed later this morning.

Baxter reiterated that waves had overtopped the sea walls and spilled across coastal roads in a number of areas early on Wednesday, including in Breaker Bay. It will be "a big job" for contracting crews to clear the debris, he added.

Ōwhiro Bay Parade to the west of the bridge will also remain closed to all but residents this morning while the roadway is cleared.

Heavy swells are still expected along the Wairarapa coast. Cape Palliser Rd remains closed at Te Kopi and at the Department of Conservation station at Huripi river. Further assessment will be completed later this morning. Hinekura Rd remains closed as advised on Thursday.  

There are no roads closed in Lower Hutt, with Hutt City Council contractors working to clear the debris from roads overnight.  

8:30am - Wellington is "not out of the woods yet", according to officials.

Speaking to The AM Show shortly after 6am, Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO) regional manager Jeremy Holmes said damage assessment is crucial before any further decisions are made. 

Surging waves had overtopped the sea walls, leaving a trail of debris along affected coastal roads, he said. 

"At this stage it's still not 100 percent safe between now and high tide for people to drive along these roads. We're encouraging people to steer clear while we assess the damage that's been sustained overnight, clear any debris and make sure it's safe for people to return."

It's likely the large waves will continue to hammer the capital throughout Wednesday morning, with the next high tide forecast at around 9:30am. According to MetService, the "highest risk" coincides with the high tide.

"The latest information from MetService suggests we're still likely to see some large waves, about 5.5m, coinciding with high tide again this morning - so we're not out of the woods yet," Holmes added.

Cordons at the northern and southern ends of Breaker Bay will remain in place this morning, he said. A cordon also will remain at the intersection of Ōwhiro Bay Parade and Happy Valley Rd in Ōhwiro Bay.

The view from Seatoun looking out to Breaker Bay on Wednesday morning.
The view from Seatoun looking out to Breaker Bay on Wednesday morning. Photo credit: Newshub

8:10am - In an update shortly after 6am, the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO) declared the threat posed by the ongoing swells is "not over yet".

Waves reaching up to 5.5m in height are expected until 9.30am, when the next high tide is forecast to occur.

"Stay out of the water, off beaches and away from the coast," WREMO warned.

Stay up to date with the latest advice from MetService here.

7:55am - A heavy swell warning has also been issued for Wellington's south coast as the area continues to remain under a local state of emergency.

Roughly 140 homes were evacuated at Breaker Bay on Tuesday as the rolling waves broke over sea walls and spilled onto residential properties. 

Waves reaching up to 6.5m continued to pound the capital's coastline overnight, with officials meeting on Wednesday morning to assess any damage.

Meterologists say there is a period of about 15-16 seconds between each peak, indicating "high energy".

"High tides on Tuesday at 8:54pm, and high tides on Wednesday at 9:18am and 9:48pm," MetService says.

"Swell-and-surf-exposed coastlines are likely to see overtopping waves causing damage to property, deposition of debris, driftwood, sand and gravel, making access difficult or dangerous and possible road closures.

"The highest risk period coincides with the high tide."

However, the waves are expected to lessen on Wednesday - with MetService predicting the southerly swell will ease to 4m this evening and 3.5m on Thursday.

An update will be issued by 2pm.

7:45am - There are currently just two weather warnings in place - a welcome change from Tuesday. 

MetService has issued road snowfall warnings for Desert Rd (SH1) in the central North Island and Rimutaka Hill Rd (SH2) in the lower half. 

A few light snow showers are likely to affect SH1 until early on Wednesday morning, MetService says, with 1cm or less of snow expected to settle near the summit of the road.

Snow showers are also forecast to hit SH2 throughout Wednesday morning, with a further 2 to 4cm of snow possibly settling near the summit of the road and lesser amounts down to 300m.

7:30am - Kiwis are waking up to a freezing morning as the polar blast plummets temperatures below 0C in many parts of the country.

The Super City has not been spared from the bone-chilling cold, with Aucklanders shivering through one of the coldest nights of the year, dropping below a frosty 0C overnight. 

The wild weather has also dumped snow as far north as the Bay of Plenty, with heavy rain, hail and strong winds sweeping up the North Island.

And New Zealanders across the country are in for a rude awakening this morning, the current temperatures suggesting several layers, fuzzy socks and thermals are on the agenda. So crank up the heaters - this is where we're sitting as of 7:30am:

  • Whangarei: 2C
  • Auckland: 2C
  • Hamilton: -2C
  • Rotorua: -1C
  • Tauranga: 3C
  • New Plymouth: 5C
  • Gisborne: 9C
  • Wellington: 9C
  • Nelson: 1C
  • Blenheim: -2C
  • Christchurch: 9C
  • Queenstown: -2C
  • Dunedin: 9C
  • Invercargill: 9C.