Heavy rain and strong, damaging winds of up to 160km/h have been forecast for parts of the South Island as a front brings unsettled weather from today.

MetService has issued a red alert, warning of severe and destructive northwesterly gales for the Canterbury High Country and foothills from 1pm today until 6pm tomorrow.

Gusts of up to 160km/h in exposed places are forecast.

“These winds are expected to produce widespread damage, especially to trees and powerlines and could lift roofs. Transport and power networks are likely to be significantly impacted, with road closures and power outages,” it warned.

“Conditions will be hazardous for motorists and there is a danger to life from flying debris and falling trees or branches.”

Fire and Emergency NZ is warning people to prepare now for the severe gales.

Assistant area manager for Canterbury Mike Johns says the storm will be stronger than the gales that caused fires and damage on Thursday and Friday.

The winds are associated with a cold front moving northwards up the South Island today and early tomorrow.

Transport and power networks are likely to be significantly affected, with road closures and power outages likely, says MetService meteorologist Hordur Thordarson.

The remainder of the eastern South Island is currently under an orange warning, including the Canterbury Plains and Christchurch, which could also see damaging gales tonight into tomorrow morning.

Red warnings are reserved for only the most extreme weather events where significant impact and disruption is expected.

Further south, a strong wind warning is in place for Otago (apart from North Otago), Southland and Stewart Island from 9am until 8pm today.

MetService said northwest gales were forecast to be severe at times, with gusts of 120km/h in exposed places.

In North Otago, gales could reach 130km/h from 2pm today until 1am tomorrow.

Strong wind gusts could damage trees, powerlines and unsecured structures. Driving may be hazardous, especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles.

Further south, a strong wind warning is in place for Otago (apart from North Otago), Southland and Stewart Island from 9am until 8pm today.

MetService said northwest gales were forecast to be severe at times, with gusts of 120km/h in exposed places.

In North Otago, gales could reach 130km/h from 2pm today until 1am tomorrow.

Strong wind gusts could damage trees, powerlines and unsecured structures. Driving may be hazardous, especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles.

MetService also issued a heavy rain warning for the headwaters of the Otago lakes and rivers from 2pm today until 4am tomorrow, with 140mm to 160mm of rain about the divide, and 100mm within 25km east of the divide.

Fiordland was expected to get between 130mm and 180mm of rain and possible thunderstorms. The largest amounts were expected north of Doubtful Sound.

The Milford Road (State Highway 94) is closed from East Gate (Hollyford) to West Gate (Chasm) today, due to the risk of significant rainfall and possible snow forecast for today and tomorrow, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency advised.

Heavy rain was also very likely for Westland south of Otira, the Otago and Canterbury headwaters south of Arthur’s Pass from early tomorrow.

Streams and rivers may rise rapidly. Surface flooding and slips were also possible and driving conditions may be hazardous.

The front was forecast to move northwards over southern and central New Zealand tomorrow, then clear the North Island on Tuesday. This would be followed by a change to cooler south to southwest winds.

On Wednesday, a ridge of high pressure builds over much the country. However, on Thursday, a low may approach New Zealand from the northwest.

Fire and Emergency has issued advice for people in all areas covered by the strong wind warning:

• Do not light any outdoor fires – even if it is calm right now, severe gales are coming

• If you have lit an outdoor fire in the last week, check it is completely out. Many of last Friday’s fires reignited from old fire sites

• Soak discarded ashes from your home fires to make sure they are completely cold

• Farmers with irrigators and pivot should charge them and align them for a north west gales

• Bring in all loose furniture around your property

• Tie down trampolines

• Fallen trees and branches may cut power. Treat all fallen lines as live

• Avoid non-essential travel and watch for fallen debris.

Additional reporting ODT

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