IT WAS snowballs, beanies and a return to winter for the Northern Tablelands yesterday as a blanket of snow fell over Guyra and Glen Innes.
The main street of Guyra was covered in 8cm-deep snow after falls throughout Thursday night and yesterday morning, giving residents a welcome yet unseasonal morning surprise.
With snowfalls heavy enough to bend tree branches and cover houses and farmland in a thick covering of white, Guyra residents reported cars pulling over and people emerging for friendly snowball fights in the main street.
Neil Walker from the Guyra Motor Inn said his overnight residents were quite excited about the return to winter, with a couple of snow-chasers coming all the way from Queensland.
“They were quite excited. The lady was standing out there catching snowflakes in her pyjamas,” Mr Walker said.
A small snowman also appeared in the middle of the motel’s lawn. Mr Walker said although the snow was a “novelty”, he much preferred green grass this time of year.
Joining him was Uralla’s Darryl Carter, who got up at 6am to see heavy snow falling over his vineyards yesterday.
“I don’t get excited about it anymore. I can remember it snowing on Christmas Day in Uralla in the 1970s,” Mr Carter said.
In fact, it was just four years ago the Northern Tablelands received snow in October, with the Bureau of Meteorology reporting that Walcha and Guyra got a dusting in 2008.
Mount Kaputar National Park also received heavy falls, reporting cover as thick as 30cm at the top of the summit at Dawsons Springs.
While Armidale shivered through last night’s top of -4 degrees Celsius, the town received just a sprinkling of sleet which melted before it reached the ground.
Tamworth and Gunnedah were positively balmy in comparison to their New England neighbours, registering 15 and 18 degrees respectively, while the Tablelands was at least five degrees chillier during the day.
The unpredictable spring weather has helped make October a month of highs and lows for the New England North West, with temperatures plunging by up to 14 degrees in just two days.
Glen Innes has had the most extreme weather variation.
Just two days after major highways were closed due to spreading bushfires, snow covered the district, giving rural firefighters a temporary reprieve.
While some snow melted away by mid-morning due to rain and warmer daytime temperatures, heavier falls could last across the weekend.
The bureau has warned of a heavy frost risk across the region.
Meanwhile, fire officials have warned that when the snow melts it could only take a couple of days for the potentially dangerous bushfire conditions to return.
“The forest fire danger index for western parts of the Northern Tablelands is still high,” Northern Tablelands Rural Fire Service community safety officer Scott Keelan said.
“There’s a high fuel load in the grasses and once the sun comes around and the snow dries up, it’s going to burn quite well.”
While delighting some, the snowfalls proved a pain for others, as sheep graziers reported minor stock losses across the Northern Tablelands due to the icy conditions.
Morning drivers were also affected as traffic slowed to a crawl in wet and icy conditions.
The infamous Devils Pinch stretch of the New England Highway south of Guyra was shut for a short time about 7am due to the possibility of black ice.
New England highway patrol Sergeant Dave Bramble said police had a busy morning monitoring icy road conditions.
“We had highway patrol cars all up and down the highway monitoring it and asking drivers to slow down,” Sergeant Bramble said.
Students excited by the prospect of a “snow day” holiday were disappointed after schools decided to remain open across the region, but did get a later class start time due to slow road conditions affecting several bus routes.
Wytaliba Public School students got an early mark to enjoy the snow, with the small Glen Innes school choosing to shut its doors at 11am.
A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said further snowfall was expected into last night.
The spokesman said weather conditions across the North West Slopes and Plains and Northern Tablelands would be partly cloudy with scattered showers and falling snow above 900m.
The blankets and the brollies have been out again as the the New England North West swept back into cool weather this week, the result of a cold southerly front sweeping across Australia, plunging temperatures and bringing rain and storms across six states.