Canterbury's 'Big Snow'

28 August 1992

Sheep struggling in snow on Sawdon Station, Lake Tekapo, 1992
Sheep struggling in snow on Sawdon Station, Lake Tekapo, 1992 (© Tony Allan)

Cantabrians awoke to find the region blanketed in snow. The ‘Big Snow’, as the storm came to be known, was the region’s heaviest for 30 years.

From midday on 27 August weather forecasts alerted residents to the likelihood of snow, which began to fall that evening. As forecast, snow fell at sea level. By mid-morning next day, power was out throughout much of the region. Most of Christchurch city had electricity restored by the afternoon, but it took days for line gangs to reach some rural areas. Snow closed Christchurch airport and many inland roads. Schools and courts shut down, but hospitals stayed open with assistance from the army and the Red Cross.

The rural community was hardest hit. It was the middle of the lambing season, and farmers lost newborn lambs, ewes and sheep freshly shorn in preparation for lambing. Other regions supplied hay and the government covered road-user charges incurred collecting and distributing feed. A reported one million sheep died, at an estimated cost to farmers of $40 million (equivalent to nearly $70 million in 2020).

  • Further information: Philip King, Canterbury: the big snow 1992, Philip King Booksellers Ltd, Christchurch, 1992

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