UN's top weatherman visits Hong Kong Observatory

UN meteorology agency's chief says accurate forecasts will become increasingly important as global weather becomes ever more extreme

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 5:40am

Even the world's top weatherman concedes that he cannot do much about the weather, except to get his forecasts right.

"Most people are unhappy not about bad weather disrupting their time at work, but their time at play," said David Grimes, president of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), who is in Hong Kong for celebrations marking the 130th anniversary of its Observatory.

But predicting the weather is nothing like gazing into a crystal ball, especially with extreme climate conditions becoming more common in recent years, the veteran weatherman says.

"There are fewer days with rain, but more intensive rainstorms. We've seen more exceptional weather," said Grimes, a Canadian who in 2011 was elected to head the Geneva-based UN agency for a four-year term.

"In North America, we had Hurricane Sandy having a direct strike on New York City. The disaster raised the issue of the vulnerability of cities under extreme weather."

While observatories could usually recognise a typhoon long before it made landfall, the tracking of its movements remained a challenge, he said.

In order to increase accuracy and plan ahead of disasters, governments and observatories around the world were investing in new technologies and sharing more information, he said.

Under a global system, they now have access to weather data on demand. In Hong Kong, the system is in full swing and its implementation around the globe will be complete in 2015.

Meanwhile, China and other countries are sending satellites up to replace old ones. That would help observe storms and winds, Grimes said.

"The first weather satellite was sent into space in 1960," he said. "For the first time, meteorologists were able to see the conditions from space."

Today, three-day forecasts were as accurate as one-day forecasts a decade ago, he said.

Grimes also spoke of the need to mitigate global warming by cutting carbon emissions. Hong Kong, for its part, could reduce greenhouse gases by developing green technologies, he said.

"It can show the world how to do it, appealing to China or the US to apply the same solutions."

The WMO has launched a new version of the MyWorldWeather mobile application - developed by the Hong Kong Observatory - which now supports seven languages: Chinese, English, German, Korean, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. It provides official weather forecasts for more than 1,600 cities.