Hato may need to be reclassified as super typhoon after data review, Hong Kong Observatory chief says
Storm killed 10 people in nearby casino hub Macau last month and left widespread flooding
Hong Kong weather authorities have been reviewing data on Typhoon Hato, which wreaked havoc in the region last month, to see if the storm should in hindsight be reclassified as a super typhoon.
Shun Chi-ming, director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said the strength of Hato, which killed 10 people in the nearby casino hub of Macau, was comparable to 1962 Super Typhoon Wanda, which left 130 people dead in Hong Kong and 72,000 homeless.
Shun also warned on Saturday that there could be one or two tropical cyclones forming over the Pacific Ocean next week, but could not yet say for sure whether they would hit Hong Kong.
“We have been reviewing related statistics to see if we should escalate [Hato] to a super typhoon,” Shun said on a Commercial Radio programme.
A super typhoon is classified as a tropical cyclone with a maximum 10-minute average wind speed of at least 185km/h.
A typhoon warning signal No 10 – the Observatory’s highest storm warning which is rarely used – was sent out in Hong Kong for Hato.
WATCH: Typhoon Hato leaves trail of destruction in Hong Kong
The storm caused flooding in many coastal areas of the city such as Heng Fa Chuen, Tai O and Lei Yue Mun, with waves about five or six metres high. But Hong Kong escaped casualties, unlike neighbouring Macau across the Pearl River Estuary.
Wanda came much closer to Hong Kong than Hato.
“Hong Kong was really lucky this time,” Shun said. “The strongest wind did not hit squarely and just scraped by the city. If Hato had been three or four kilometres closer, the situation would have been completely different.”
The typhoon ended up moving closer to Macau where it caused citywide flooding, blackouts and water shortages. Two bodies were found in a waterlogged underground car park after the storm hit.
WATCH: Macau struggles to recover after Typhoon Hato
Shun warned there could be more typhoons on the scale of Wanda passing by Hong Kong as global warming heated up the sea and created more energy to strengthen typhoons.
This year, for example, the Observatory had originally expected to see between four and seven tropical cyclones, he said, but had now raised its expectation to between six and nine.
“September is traditionally a peak period,” Shun said. “There is a chance of one or two forming next week.”
Yeung Hon-yin, acting senior scientific officer at the Observatory, said scientists had observed two low pressure areas near Guam and the Philippines.
“The one near Guam will develop into a tropical cyclone gradually,” Yeung said. “It will bring unsettled weather to the seas east of the Philippines in the next couple of days.”
But the one closer to the Philippines, Yeung said, might not develop into a cyclone.
Yeung added that computer models had not been able to clearly tell whether the storm forming near Guam would hit Hong Kong.
Former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying said the authority reviewed every typhoon after its passing for scientific purposes based on all available statistics, including some information only collectable after the storm.
“It’s like a postmortem,” Lam said.
Shun called on the government, which has been consulting the public on the idea of developing underground spaces in the city for commercial or recreational use, to take into account the risks posed by typhoons.
“We need to have a long-term plan to adjust to climate change,” he said.