2011 New Zealand snowstorms

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Snow in the Upper Hutt City suburb of Pinehaven during 16 August

The 2011 New Zealand snowstorms were a series of record breaking snow falls that affected both the North Island and South Island. The storms occurred over the span of a few weeks, beginning on 25 July 2011 in the North Island and subsequently spreading to the South. The storms subsided in late July and returned in August. It was the worst winter storm to hit New Zealand in seventy years.[1] The heavy snowfalls caused widespread closures in many cities, including Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin.

The South Island was the hardest hit, although the North Island was significantly affected, with the climatically mild cities of Auckland and Wellington reporting the first notable snowfall in over twenty years. The storms caused chaos around the country, leaving people stranded at airports, blocking state highways and resulting in entire regions, particularly Otago, being completely closed.[1][2] The initial storm of July was relatively short lived, only to return again in August.[3] The winter storm also caused mixed precipitation.

The snowfall was caused by Antarctic storms which moved northward. A large high pressure system had developed and stretched from Antarctica to the subtropics, where it had then merged with three neighbouring low pressure systems, causing cold temperatures and heavy snowfall.[4]

25 July 2011[edit]

Snowfall in the Christchurch suburb of Woolston.

On 25 July 2011, New Zealand was gripped by its coldest winter snap in fifteen years.[5] The lowest temperature set during the month was −10.2 °C (13.6 °F) at Manapouri (in the southwest corner of the South Island) on 26 July, which was a new all-time record for the town. Christchurch Airport recorded its second-coldest day on 25 July. The severe winter storm was well predicted, with forecasters warning of the potential of heavy snow down to sea level in south and east of the South Island and to low levels in the North Island. This snowstorm was especially threatening as it was the school holidays, and many people were travelling.

Up to 30 cm (12 in) of snow was recorded in parts of Christchurch,[6] the heaviest recorded there in sixteen years. The snowfalls also flattened sand dunes in Brighton and completely coated nearby Sumner Beach 1,700 homes within the Christchurch metropolitan area were without power. The city's bus service was also shut down for almost two days. Various highways were closed, including the State Highway 1 between Invercargill and Dunedin and State Highway 94, the road from Te Anau into Milford Sound. The storms lasted for roughly three days, before subsiding and returning early in the following month.

14 August 2011[edit]

Snow-covered Dunedin Botanic Gardens on 14 August

A few days prior to this date, forecasters were warning of a severe snowstorm heading for New Zealand, even going as far as calling it the "perfect snowstorm".[7] Snow fell consistently down to sea level in Wellington for the first time since the 1976,[8] and snow even fell for a brief time in Auckland for the first time in 80 years.[8]

Much of the South Island was heavily blanketed, with schools closed in Queenstown, Dunedin, and Christchurch.[9] The heavy snow also disrupted flights in and out of these centres, and also in and out of Wellington. Schools were also closed there due to the snow. Power was also lost to around 4,000 homes in South Taranaki, Manawatu, Whanganui, and Wairarapa.[9] The storms caused airport closures in Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin. The Christchurch and Dunedin Donor Centres were closed and Westport and Mosgiel mobile collections were cancelled as a result of bad weather. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) closed access to the Christchurch's earthquake-damaged red zone due to potential safety hazards. The snow caused power outages in rural areas of Canterbury, namely Rakaia, Westmelton, Leeston and Greendale due to fallen tree branches.[10]

Although Wellington received its largest snowfall in 30 years, the South Island received the most during the storms, with some regions receiving snowfall of up to 20–30 cm. The storms was reportedly the worst of its since 1939, when snow fell on the top of Maungawhau / Mount Eden and outer suburbs of Auckland, a city which does not generally receive any snowfall.


Power outages[edit]

Many homes around the country were without power, due to trees falling on power lines.[11]

Road closures[edit]

Widespread road closures occurred across the Otago region on the South Island.[12]

Ski resorts[edit]

Many ski resorts were completely closed due to being covered in dangerous amounts of snow and damage to infrastructure.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "New Zealand's Record Snow Storm". Crisis Boom. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Cold snap brings worst snow in decade". TVNZ. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Significant NZ snowstorm looking likely". Weather Watch.co.nz. 12 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  4. ^ "'Once in a lifetime' snow storm hits New Zealand". The Telegraph. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  5. ^ Paul Harper (25 July 2011). "Big chill brings black ice warning". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Wintry blast brings country to a standstill". The Press. 25 July 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  7. ^ Antonio Bradley; Paloma Migone (12 August 2011). "NZ set for 'perfect snowstorm'". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b Felim McMahon (15 August 2011). "Kiwis marvel at Auckland and Wellington snow". Storyful. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Snow: What you need to know". Stuff.co.nz. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  10. ^ "Further snowfalls expected tonight". The New Zealand Herald. 16 August 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Snow in New Zealand: Pleading for an end to epic wintery blast". CS Monitor. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  12. ^ "New Zealand Snowsorm believed to be heaviest in 30 years". The Huffington Post. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  13. ^ "Heavy snowfall blankets New Zealand ski areas". Ski Club. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  14. ^ "New Zealand blizzards 'heaviest in 50 years'". The Guardian. 16 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2014.