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Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkhut may have come and gone, but Hong Kong’s chief forecaster warns city to prepare for more bad weather

Director of the Hong Kong Observatory has told residents to remain vigilant and has urged the city to rethink its storm resilience strategy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 10:46pm

Hong Kong is still recovering from the most intense typhoon to hit since records began, but the city’s chief weatherman warned residents on Sunday to stay vigilant – storm season is not over yet.

Peak tropical cyclone season may have passed – 90 per cent occur between June and October – but sea surface temperatures over the Pacific remain warm and typhoons are known to form as late as November, said Shun Chi-ming, director of the Hong Kong Observatory.

In November 1900 for example, a typhoon equivalent in power to a No 10 storm by today’s standards made a direct hit over the city.

With the threat of powerful storms on the scale of Typhoon Mangkhut more likely in the future amid a changing climate, the city will have to rethink its resilience strategy and adopt new technologies to help it better respond to extreme weather, he said.

“This time our disaster response was not bad but prevention is better than the cure,” he said on a local radio programme. “In the future we may have to face [stronger storms]; in fact, over the course history, we’ve never really had to face a situation where a super typhoon made landfall over Hong Kong.

To strengthen resiliency, the city may have to think about changing the way infrastructure is built. “With rising sea levels, would land reclamation works have to be done higher? Should we be building sea walls that are higher and stronger?

The brave few who kept city safe, fed and cared for during Mangkhut

The city could also consider adopting real-time data sharing that would allow government departments to coordinate and respond to severe weather. During storm surges for instance, different departments could provide images of how different areas along the coast were affected.

Mangkhut, which was a severe typhoon by the time it reached the city on September 16, battered Hong Kong, leaving 400 people injured, causing unprecedented damage, and costing an estimated US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion) in insurance.

The government received over 54,000 reports of fallen trees while strong guests flung debris across many parts in the city, while heavy rain caused serious flooding in coastal and low-lying areas.

But after the experiences of Mangkhut last month and Hato – a super typhoon that hit Hong Kong but severely battered Macau in August 2017 – Shun conceded that the public’s awareness of disaster preparedness was noticeably higher.

“Our colleagues would regularly would take calls from the public … before Hato, the main concern was whether they needed to go to work or school but after Hato, more people are asking what precautions need to be taken against strong winds or what they might need at home.”

Still, lawmakers are asking the Hong Kong government to create a law that will empower the city’s leader to give workers the day off extreme weather incidents.

The day after Mangkhut tore through the city was a Monday, and thousands of workers were left confused and angry by large-scale disruptions to public transport services when they tried to report for work.