New Zealand's north battered by storms

Several weather warnings were in place across New Zealand throughout Friday as a storm cell delivering heavy rain and strong winds moved across the north of the country, but it's too early to tell what impact that had on drought- stricken farmers.

The MetService said a deep low moved southeast, with the heaviest rain and wind around Mount Taranaki, Tongariro National Park, the eastern ranges of Bay of Plenty and Marlborough. Severe gales were also expected to be felt around Marlborough and north Canterbury into Saturday, with warnings and watches in place throughout these areas.

The heavy rain also proved fatal as a tree fell across the roof of a car killing a woman, with power cut to tens of thousands of properties, hundreds of residents evacuated, roads cut, water plants shut down and even landslides and king tides for coastal areas.

Around 150 millimetres was forecast in parts of the North Island, and almost 100 millimetres in some regions in the south. Several major produce lines that have started harvesting (or are preparing to start), including berries, stone fruit, apples, pears and various vegetable lines, and have been affected by the weather.

The rain comes just days after Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O’Connor classified the drought as a medium-scale adverse event, with affected areas including Taranaki region and western parts of the Manawatu-Whanganui and Wellington regions.

“Regional leaders in Taranaki asked for support for the primary sector. Announcing a medium-scale adverse event triggers additional Government support for farmers and growers in affected areas,” Mr O’Connor said.

Earlier in the week, before the storm cell hit, Horowhenua District Council Water services engineer Maurice McGunnigle told Radio NZ that rain was needed, but a short burst might not help much.

"I think more than anything we would be hoping for low intensity rainfall that lasts for a long period, so it can have time to soak into the ground, and then as more water eventually kind of holds in the ground and it builds again," he said. "Even if we get a short sharp period of rain over the next few days, there might be an increase in the Ohau River levels, but that might only last a couple of days, and the river level will drop again. I'd say you'd probably need at least a week of continuous rain."

Power outages at some properties could last for several days and it will most likely be into next week before farmers know the extent and whether the rainfall has actually helped ease the drought, or caused more damage.

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