HK Magazine Archive

Why Does Hong Kong Feel So Cold?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 11:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:53pm

Plenty of people will tell you that it’s all down to the humidity. A damp cold is always worse than a dry one, they say. Well—yes and no.

It’s counterintuitive, in a way. High humidity is always bad in summer because the water in the air makes it harder for moisture to evaporate from your skin, which is how we cool off. You’d think that in colder weathers, less evaporation means a warmer you.

But studies have shown that humidity doesn’t actually greatly affect how cold it feels. Where humidity does play a role is in our clothes. Much of the moisture hanging around in the air, as well as our sweat, is absorbed by the clothes we wear. It’s that dampness that is prone to retaining low temperatures, which means our bodies have to work harder to keep warm and we are therefore more likely to feel the cold.

But there are other reasons why Hong Kong’s winters feel unfairly cold. A lot of it comes down to wind chill. As a coastal city with a whole bunch of mainland behind it, Hong Kong is the lucky recipient of the cold northeast monsoon winds, which blow down to us all the way from sunny Siberia. In many cases, it’s that chill in the wind that leaves us shivering, not the actual temperature.

Then there’s the fact that Hong Kong buildings are built to release heat, not retain it. There’s little thermal cladding necessary when most of the time you’re trying to get rid of sweltering, oppressive heat. With single-glazed windows, drafty doors and tile floors, you’re not going to get the warming effect of thick carpet and snug walls. You’re also probably spending a lot of your time inside air-conditioned buildings, which don’t discriminate on the time of year and instead treat every day as just another attempt to try to lower the ambient temperature to sub-Arctic conditions.

Which all leads to the fact that you’re probably just not wearing enough clothing. Some optimistic part of you is still hoping that the city will change its mind and bring junk season around for some kind of winter renaissance. It’s a worthwhile dream, but a dream it must remain. Until then break out the roasted chestnuts and thermal underwear, and happy holidays to us all.