My Take

Observatory feeling under the weather

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 1:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 1:18am

Observatories exist not just to provide weather forecasts, but as punching bags for the public to let off steam.

People love to vent anger at the government, and few departments are rounded on as much as our official weathermen. When they make the right predictions, no one shows appreciation. But when they get it wrong, howls of outrage inevitably ensure.

And so it is with Linfa. The tropical typhoon led to Hong Kong's first No 8 signal this year. The signal lasted barely six hours. Few people in the city felt the gale-force winds anywhere as Linfa weakened rapidly once it hit inland over Guangdong.

Workers hardly benefited from shorter working hours as the signal was raised at 4.40pm on Thursday. Those who wished for a day off - or at least the morning off - were disappointed yesterday.

The Observatory yesterday defended itself, claiming Linfa met all the parameters of a signal 8 typhoon.

It said it even sent a weather drone close to the eye of the typhoon to monitor its direction and wind speeds.

But it's too bad that with all the hi-tech gadgets and computing power, the Observatory still couldn't save itself from making an embarrassing forecast.

"It turned out Linfa weakened at a faster pace than we expected - in fact, much faster," said the Observatory's assistant director Dr Cheng Cho-ming.

It didn't help matters that the Observatory apparently made the decision to raise the T8 signal partly based on data that was almost eight hours old by 4.40pm.

Granted, forecasting is an inexact science. And Linfa's No 8 was not the shortest in recent years. The No 8 Nuri in 2008 lasted just two hours while Doksuri in 2012 slightly over four hours. In other words, Linfa is hardly the worst as far as forecasting goes.

Still, the No 8 signal was at best a debatable call, at worst an unwarranted one.

But thanks to Hong Kong's excellent infrastructure and public transportation systems, none of us is the worse off for Linfa.

There are times when the Observatory does make the right calls.

I propose the following: recognise and praise its work when it gets it right as much as criticise it when it gets it wrong. It's only fair.