The Hong Kong Observatory raised its No 8 warning signal at 5.20pm on Tuesday, and all school classes have been cancelled as Tropical Cyclone Kompasu, the second typhoon to hit the city in four days, gathers strength.
As of 3pm on Tuesday, Kompasu was about 500km southeast of Hong Kong and forecast to move west at some 25km/h towards Hainan Island.
Just the day before, the Observatory pledged that it would provide timelier alerts for the impact of Kompasu – which was given a No 3 warning on Monday night – after it came under attack last week.
“This time around, when Kompasu arrives, we expect there will be sudden changes in the weather. So in terms of monitoring the situation and providing better service, we will enlist more staff to help and hopefully improve,” Observatory director Cheng Cho-ming said.
The weekend’s storm, Cheng noted, had been “a very special case”.
“In terms of predicting such an extreme situation, it was very difficult,” he added, noting that climate change was making tropical cyclones stronger, wetter and harder to forecast.
The Observatory issued the No 3 warning for the storm at 12.40am on Tuesday as it came within 800km of the city.
The storm will be closest to Hong Kong on Wednesday, and is projected to strengthen into a typhoon as it passes about 400km to the south, bringing gale-force winds and heavy rains starting late on Tuesday.
However, the effect of the northeast monsoon could ultimately push the typhoon further away and weaken its winds, making a No 8 signal unnecessary, Cheng said in a press conference on Monday.
Despite the lingering uncertainty, news of another possible No 8 signal sparked panic buying in some districts on Monday afternoon, compounding the effects of disruptions to the fresh food supply over the weekend, and leading to empty shelves and long queues at supermarkets around town.
A Tseung Kwan O community Facebook page showed one shopper abandoning the queue at a supermarket in Hang Hau after realising the wait could last more than half an hour, while another poked fun at the scene, likening it to “the end of the world”.
One housewife in the area, who declined to be named, said she was shocked to find the wet market at Po Lam Estate to be out of fresh vegetables by 5.30pm.
“The wet market was unusually crowded, with many people. Usually, the stalls are open until 7pm and put up discounts for fresh vegetables. But today they ran out of stock so early,” she said.
“Another housewife told me there were still some vegetables at the supermarket, but when I got there, only a very few choices were left. I only managed to get some cucumbers and such.”
“It seems everyone learned a lesson from the sudden typhoon on Saturday,” she added. “We were caught unprepared then, so everyone wants to grab food to prepare this time.”
In Quarry Bay, fresh vegetables were also mostly out of stock by 5.30pm at the Food Le Parc, run by ParknShop.
A customer who took a picture of the empty shelves said he had gone to the supermarket after work to stock up on some choi sum or lettuce for the next couple of days, but was disappointed to find none left.
“There were some bags of salad left, and there was coriander and asparagus. But no other fresh vegetables at all,” he said, adding he ultimately settled for the asparagus. “I don’t know why people are so panicked about the wind this time. This is crazy.”