Hot and cold weather warnings can help vulnerable citizens

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 5:47pm

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I refer to the article by Yonden Lhatoo (“Government mollycoddling endures, whatever the weather”, June 26).

Lhatoo quoted the advisories for very hot and cold weather as examples of Hong Kong people being mollycoddled. We agree that a good balance should be struck to avoid the impression of the public being overprotected. However, we would like to stress that weather warnings and advisories are indispensable in public weather services.

Climate varies from one place to another. A temperature  considered comfortable to people living in countries in the north may  feel cold to people living in the tropics.

Based on local climate condition, each place has its own set of normal temperature ranges, outside which a weather warning and accompanying advisories will be issued. Heat or cold stresses could have a profound impact  on the public in Hong Kong.

 For example, more than  100 elderly people died during a prolonged cold spell in February 1996. This led to the establishment of the Senior Citizens Home Safety Association,  an NGO providing emergency support to the elderly. As to hot weather, an average of around 70 people have suffered from heat-related illnesses each year in the past decade,  and four of them died. A number of studies by local universities revealed that when temperatures reached either of the two extreme ends of local climatological range, the mortality and hospitalisation rates would increase significantly and the number of  elderly people calling for emergency support would drastically increase.

In a caring society, weather advisories serve as a  gentle reminder to  vulnerable groups of people and their  relatives or friends who could offer assistance.

These advisories can also educate  the public, especially the younger generation, on how weather might affect them, depending on their circumstances. Weather services in neighbouring regions also adopt similar approaches of issuing weather warnings and advisories, albeit  using different thresholds depending on their local climate conditions and societal needs.

With around 15 years of operation, the  very hot weather warning and  cold weather warning have gained wide public acceptance and understanding.

They are also adopted by various government departments and  NGOs to trigger response actions, for example, the opening of temporary shelters, distribution of blankets to the homeless in cold weather, and arrangement of outreach activities to those in need.

Lee Lap-shun, senior scientific officer, Hong Kong Observatory