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Hong Kong weather

When the weather turns nasty, common sense should prevail

Forecasting the weather is an imperfect science, so parents should use discretion when deciding on whether their children should go to school

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 11:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 11:40am

When officials rely on the imperfect science of weather forecasting in making arbitrary decisions that affect many families, there are bound to be missteps. The Education Bureau trod on a lot of parents’ toes on Tuesday morning. We refer, of course, to the direction to suspend all school classes issued at 7.45am, 10 minutes after the Observatory raised the red rainstorm signal, catching many students already on their way to school. In one example of the confusion and frustration that resulted, a 10-year-old boy spent three hours, from 6.30am, on a school bus after it turned back to take students home, because he lived furthest way.

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Given that the signal was lowered to yellow by 9.35am and raised to red again at 11.20am, the situation bears comparison to controversy in the past over the timing and level of typhoon signals that turned out not to be vindicated by the severity of the weather. At least there was no repeat of the pandemonium that ensued on a previous occasion when officials suspended school classes at 8.55am, 20 minutes after a red rainstorm signal was raised. But we can expect weather forecasters to continue erring on the side of caution, and education officials to keep applying rules that put students’ safety and welfare first.

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Not only is weather forecasting an imperfect science, but the less predictable effects of climate change can be expected to make it more so. That seems to call for the exercise of some commonsense. It is therefore good to see educators and weather forecasters remind parents they now have discretion whether to let their children attend school in poor weather. Indeed, some schools already show flexibility in letting parents decide, and the Observatory provides enough transparent information for parents to assess risks and make informed decisions.

There also seems merit in the suggestion that the Observatory share early warning data with the Education Bureau, which could put school networks and principals on notice to prepare for a likely rainstorm.