Stormy weather has unleashed tornadoes on parts of the country, cutting power to more than 12,000 Taranaki homes and destroying homes, while ferry sailings have been cancelled in the capital and temperatures drop in both islands. Temperatures vary wildly around New Zealand as of 2pm Tuesday, according to WeatherWatch - between 2 and 9C in the South Island and lower North Island, while the northern parts of the country get up to 23C. Fire and Emergency New Zealand have responded to several callouts in the Ruapehu and Taranaki districts after at least two tornadoes tore through. Ruapehu District Council chief executive Clive Manley said civil defence crews and other response agencies are on the ground and responding to community needs on Tuesday. "One unoccupied house has been completely destroyed," he said. "There is structural damage to several other properties including partial roof loss and broken windows."Cordons are in place in parts of National Park village, limiting public access for health and safety reasons. The cordon will remain in place overnight on Tuesday. Several trees are down in National Park along the storm track. The water is safe to drink and sewerage is operational. A welfare centre has been operational at the National Park School hall. At least half a dozen houses have lost their roofs in the Taranaki town of Rahotu and an emergency operation centre has been set up at Rahotu school, a Fire and Emergency spokeswoman said. It comes as MetService reported 4500 lightning strikes lighting up the Taranaki sky within an hour early on Tuesday morning as the storms knocked out power to much of the district. Severe winds with gusts up to 110km/h have been forecast to continue in the area into Tuesday afternoon as the front moves north and east to hit most of the country. Rain was already lashing Taranaki, Wellington, Hawke's Bay and closing in on Auckland, according to the MetService radar. In Wellington, all Cook Strait ferry crossings have been cancelled, ironically on the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster. Boaties in Auckland are being warned to expect wind gusts of 110 km/h and Civil Defence in the city is telling people to secure loose items in their backyards and balconies and bring pets inside. Thunderstorms with wind gusts that could potentially damage trees, power lines and unsecured structures are forecast to hit on a broad front from Wellington through Hawke's Bay and Auckland into Northland. Heavy snow warnings are in place for much of the country's southern highways including Arthurs Pass, Lewis Pass, Lindis Pass, Haast Pass, Crown Range Road, Milford Road, and the Dunedin to Waitati Highway. The Napier-Taupo Road and the Desert Road are also affected. Overnight, a blanket of more than 75cm of snow fell in much of the Canterbury plains and Mackenzie High Country, sending temperatures plummeting, WeatherWatch says. The southerly blast is expected to fade out by the end of the week.