Weather: Wet, windy weekend ahead as rare red heavy rain warning issued

Parts of New Zealand are in for a weekend of wet and windy weather as a rare red heavy rain warning is issued for some South Island areas.

The red warning - the highest level alert - is in place for northern Westland and Buller from 9pm on Thursday through to Saturday. Red warnings are reserved for "the most impactful weather events", says MetService, and are only issued after close consultation with the relevant regional authorities, including councils and Civil Defence Emergency Management teams.

A red warning is  only issued when rain could have a significant impact on communities and transport links.

Between 300 and 400mm of rain is forecasted to fall from Thursday night to Saturday morning in the area, with peak rainfall rates of 20-30mm/h expected from Friday afternoon. This rain is expected to cause dangerous river conditions, MetService says, and may produce significant flooding.

"Anyone with travel plans in Westland and Buller on Friday and Saturday are urged to keep up to date with road information from Waka Kotahi NZTA," says MetService meterologist Lewis Ferris. "This is especially relevant due to the school holidays bringing more families to the West Coast."

Further to the red rain warning issued due to the active front moving across New Zealand, high winds are also forecast to hit the country. Severe strong wind warnings are issued for Marlborough, Wellington, south Wairarapa and Taranaki. Extreme northerly gales with gusts of up to 140km/h in exposed areas across the Wellington region could disrupt power, cause damage to structures and make driving dangerous.

"For anyone looking to get away this weekend, winds of this strength could potentially close exposed roads, like the SH2 Rimutaka Hill Road, so allow extra time and follow Waka Kotahi NZTA for updates and advice," says MetService meterologst Amy Rossiter.

A severe heavy rain watch is also in place for the lower North Island and central high country across to Taranaki as the weather system moves across the country on Saturday. 

The upper North Island doesn't escape the wild weather either. Waitomo through to Northland, including the Bay of Plenty, should expect strong or gale force northerlies with a period of heavy rain on Saturday afternoon.

But MetService says there's a silver lining to the wild weather - the system will bring warm, moist air from the tropics down over the country. Warmer than average nights are expected for the North Island and upper South Island, but the lower regions can still expect some chilly temperatures.

The NZTA is warning motorists to take extra care, particularly as the roads are often busier during the school holidays.

"It can be hard to see the highway in torrential rain and people should be aware of small slips and areas of surface flooding," journey manager Tresca Forrester says.

"Driving slower than the posted speed limit is the best idea, with your headlights on.

"It takes longer to stop on slippery roads. Double the two-second rule to ensure a safe distance between you and the car in front."

She adds that in high winds, anyone driving or towing a high-sided vehicle like a campervan, or riding a motorcycle, is vulnerable.

NZTA's tips for driving in bad weather are:

  • Slow down
  • Watch your following distances
  • Watch your visibility - dip your lights in fog and put headlights on in heavy rain
  • Brake carefully - sudden braking can cause sliding
  • Allow extra time to get where you're going.