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Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkhut: Hong Kong shops run out of masking tape – but is there any point in using it on your windows as a safety measure?

Advice from Hong Kong Observatory is to fix adhesive tape to large window panes to reduce damage and injury. But US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is ‘waste of effort, time and tape’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2018, 2:26pm

To tape or not to tape? That is the question Hongkongers will consider as Typhoon Mangkhut looms and they worry whether their windows will survive.

With the weather expected to deteriorate significantly on Sunday as Mangkhut approaches the city many people are taking no chances and shops say they are running out of tape.

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“Normally, we can sell six to seven rolls of tape in one week. Yesterday, we sold about 100 rolls of masking tape in one hour,” Mrs Chan, manager of a branch of homeware chain Japan Home Stores in Causeway Bay, said on Friday. “Today we are short of tape for windows.”

A gift shop in the New Territories wrote on its Facebook page that supplies of masking tape had run out on Friday.

“All sizes of masking tape are sold out for now. The last batch of tape rolls will come later this afternoon. But the supply is limited,” gift shop My Stationary at Riviera Gardens in Tsuen Wan posted.

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The Hong Kong Observatory issued a very hot weather warning on Friday morning, with temperatures expected to rise to 35 degrees Celsius on Saturday as the city awaited the arrival of Mangkhut, which is packing sustained winds of 205km/h (127mph) and gusts measured at 255km/h.

In Hong Kong, it is a pre-typhoon ritual to stock up on rolls of duct tape along with instant noodles and tinned fish, and then tape a big X with vertical and horizontal lines through the middle – like the Chinese character for rice – across each window to reduce the risk of the glass shattering.

But does taping your windows help?

The Observatory thinks so – but its US counterpart does not.

“It is a waste of effort, time and tape,” the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, adding that taping windows offered little strength to the glass and no protection against flying debris.

“After the storm passes you will spend many a hot summer afternoon trying to scrape the old, baked-on tape off your windows [assuming they weren’t shattered].”

However, the Observatory’s precautionary measures when tropical cyclone warning signals are in force advise people to tape their windows.

“Adhesive tape fixed to large window panes in exposed positions will reduce damage and injury by broken glass,” the Observatory said.

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In a video by the weather agency, Lo Kok-keung, a retired engineer from the mechanical engineering department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that during tropical cyclones, aside from being hit by flying objects, windows may be damaged because of strong wind.

“Strong wind makes glass oscillate with a frequency. If it matches the natural resonant frequency of the glass, it may be broken because of resonance,” he said.

Distortion can also cause glass to smash. To prevent this, Lo said a bar can be applied behind the glass in the middle of the pane. But for the average family, it is much easier to put tape on the glass to reduce vibrations.

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“Even if the taped glass is broken, the shards are unlikely to scatter and hurt people,” Lo said.

In the video, Lo performed an experiment where a weight was dropped from a height of 30 centimetres on two panes of glass. The untaped glass broke, while the taped pane did not.

In response to the debate on whether to tape, Lo said the conditions in Hong Kong and the US were different because the wind was normally much stronger there during a storm.

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“Using tape on the windows to brace for hurricanes is not going to work,” Lo said, adding that Americans used storm shutters to protect windows from hurricane damage, which were not common in Hong Kong.

He said the tape was applied mainly to reduce the possibility of the glass breaking.