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History of the Hong Kong Observatory

The idea of setting up a meteorological observatory in Hong Kong was first proposed by the Royal Society in 1879. It was considered that Hong Kong was 'favourably situated for the study of meteorology in general and typhoons in particular'. Indeed, typhoons at that time were of great concern to the infant port of Hong Kong, and the proposal was therefore welcomed by the Hong Kong Government. After considerable investigation and deliberation, the proposal was eventually approved in 1882. Dr. W. Doberck was appointed Government Astronomer (the first director of the Observatory) and following his arrival in Hong Kong in the summer of 1883, the Hong Kong Observatory was established in the same year.

Early operations of the Observatory included meteorological observations, magnetic observations, a time service based on astronomical observations and a tropical cyclone warning service. In 1912, King George V granted the title Royal Observatory, Hong Kong, in recognition of the department's services - a title that remained until reunification with China on 1 July 1997, when the original name was restored.

More than a century has elapsed since the establishment of the Hong Kong Observatory. The department has evolved in pace with the increasing expectations and the modern day requirements of the Hong Kong community. From time to time advanced technologies were introduced in the development of its services. In particular, the most noticeable events are :

Historical Photos

Buildings

The Directors

Group Photos

Year Events
Early years of the Observatory
1883

Hong Kong Observatory was established.

1884 Regular meteorological observations commenced.

Tropical cyclone warning system - the earliest marine meteorological service - was instituted. A visual signal system of drum, ball and cone was used by the Observatory to inform masters of vessels leaving the port of Hong Kong about the position and movement of tropical cyclones. This system was replaced by a ten-symbol system in 1917, displayed at Signal Hill in Kowloon, until it was completely dispensed with in June 1961. For the local public a typhoon gun was used to warn imminent gale force winds brought about by tropical cyclones.

Magnetic observations of the horizontal and vertical forces and declination began.

Astronomical observations were made with a 6-inch Lee Equatorial and with a 3-inch Transit Instrument.

1885

The time ball was dropped for the first time at the Police Station at Tsim Sha Tsui. The dropping of the time ball was a means of providing the time signal to the public in the early years of the Observatory. The ball was raised to the top of the mast at about 12:50 p.m. each day and dropped at exactly 1 p.m.

Historical Photos

Time Ball at Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station (1885-1907)

1892

Port meteorological service commenced.

Weather forecasts for the following 24 hours were sent daily to the newspapers in time for insertion in the extra-number issued by about noon.

1908

Weather reports from ships were received by wireless telegraphy.

The new time-ball tower on Signal Hill (also known as Tai Pau Mai or Blackhead Point) at Tsim Sha Tsui replaced the time-ball tower at the Marine Police Station at Tsim Sha Tsui. With the introduction and wider use of time signals on radio broadcast, the time ball was dismantled on 30 June 1933.

1912

King George V granted the title Royal Observatory, Hong Kong, in recognition of the Observatory's services.

Historical Photos

Extract of the Hong Kong Government Gazette published on 12 July 1912 showing the grant of the title of the Royal Observatory, Hong Kong

1915 Wireless broadcast of marine weather forecasts commenced.
1916 Full 24-hourly observations of the main meteorological elements began.
1917

A visual system of tropical cyclone warning signals to indicate the wind likely to be experienced locally in Hong Kong was introduced in July. This was the first numbered signal system and it replaced the typhoon gun (audio) local storm signal which was operated since 1884. This visual system marks the origin of the current tropical cyclone warning system.

1921 Pilot balloon observations began.

Seismological measurement began.

1922

Production of daily weather map commenced.

1924 First survey of upper air temperatures by aircraft conducted.
1928

Broadcast of weather forecasts on Radio Hong Kong began.

1929

Experiments conducted to produce rain using aircraft of the Royal Air Force.

1937 Aviation weather service commenced.
1938 The Fast East Flying Training School began to provide the Observatory with upper air temperature and relative humidity data.
Second World War years
1941-1945 During the Japanese occupation, the Observatory was forced to suspend its normal meteorological service. With the dedication of a few imprisoned colleagues, the Observatory was able to maintain, on and off, part of its work.

Historical Photos

The rainfall records written on the back of a cigarette packet for April 1943. It can be faintly seen that the record was approved by the Director of the Royal Observatory

Post War years
1948 Hong Kong joined the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), predecessor of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
1949 Radiosonde and radarsonde ascents began.

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Launching of pilot balloon at the Observatory in 1950

Under the Voluntary Observing Ships' Scheme of the International Meteorological Organization, the Observatory started to recruit a fleet of locally based voluntary weather observing ships.

1951 Hong Kong set up automatic tide gauges at the Arsenal base in Wanchai for the first time.
1952 A minor tsunami generated by a severe earthquake in Kamchatka was detected by the automatic tide gauges for the first time.
1953 Radio Hong Kong began broadcasting hourly six-pip time signal provided by the Observatory on 11 April 1953.
1956 The local tropical cyclone warning signal system was enhanced with the No. 3 Strong Wind Signal introduced between the No. 1 Standby Signal and the gale signals No. 5 to 8. This marked the beginning of the modern tropical cyclone warning signal system. Signals No. 5 to 8 were replaced by 8NW, 8SW, 8NE and 8SE subsequently in 1973 so as to avoid misunderstanding by the public on the wind strength and direction.
1959 The first weather radar was installed at Tate's Cairn.

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The Observatory's first weather radar, Decca 41, installed at Tate's Cairn in 1959

1961 Measurement of atmospheric radioactivity began.

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Measurement of atmospheric radioactivity

1963 Since the adoption of the World Meteorological Organization resolution, the Observatory undertook the responsibility of collecting marine meteorological data in the region and published Marine Climatological Summaries annually.
1964 Reception of Automatic Picture Transmission (APT) signal from polar-orbiting meteorological satellites.

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Receiving satellite pictures at King's Park Meteorological Station in the mid-1960s

1966

Direct broadcasting of a 6-pip time signal from the Observatory on 95 MHz commenced in 1966, and lasted till 16 September 1989. The broadcast of the Observatory's 6 pip time-signal by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) continues to this date.

1967 Started issuing thunderstorm warning and heavy rain warning (1967 1983).
1973 The first computer system was installed.

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The Observatory's computer system in the 1970s

1975 The China Meteorological Administration and the Observatory signed an agreement in Beijing on establishing a meteorological telecommunications circuit to connect the computer systems at Beijing and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong completely integrated into WMO's Global Telecommunications System (GTS) with three point-to-point circuits :-
        Hong Kong - Tokyo (1969)
        Hong Kong - Bangkok (1970)
        Hong Kong - Beijing (1975)

The development of the first numerical weather prediction model started.

1977

Started issuing landslip warning.

1978

Reception of low-resolution satellite images from Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS) of Japan Meteorological Agency.

Historical Photos

Low resolution GMS satellite image received on 26 July 1978. Shown on the image were (from left to right) Severe Tropical Storm Agnes, Typhoon Wendy and Typhoon Virginia

1979

A network of three short-period seismograph stations was established.

Historical Photos

The seismic data acquisition and processing system

 

A numerical weather prediction model (the balanced barotropic model) was first operated on a routine basis.

Reception of high-resolution satellite images from Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS) of Japan Meteorological Agency.

Five anemometers were installed over Kowloon city area and the runway at Kai Tak International Airport for experimental windshear detection over the airport.

Historical Photos

The experimental windshear alerting system at Kai Tak International Airport

1980

A timing system based on a Caesium Beam Atomic Clock was acquired.

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The Observatory's first caesium beam atomic clock

1983 Commenced provision of 3-day weather forecasts.
1984 The first two Automatic Weather Stations were established at the Observatory's Headquarters and Sha Tin for providing public weather services. Another one was put into operation at Chek Lap Kok for providing aviation weather services.

Historical Photos

Shatin Automatic Weather Station

The Observatory's real-time rainfall data acquisition system started operation.

An agreement was signed with Guangdong Meteorological Bureau on Mutual Co-operation to jointly establish an Automatic Weather Station.

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The Director of the Royal Observatory (left) signing an agreement with the Director of Guangdong Meteorological Bureau (right)

 

1985 The first automatic weather station jointly built by the Royal Observatory and the Guangdong Meteorological Bureau, commenced operation at Huangmao Zhou.

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Installing the instruments at Huangmao Zhou

 

Dial-a-weather system was installed for the public.

The Radiation Laboratory at King's Park was established.

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King's Park Radiation Laboratory at the background (with railings on top)

1987

The Environmental Radiation Monitoring Programme was established.

Observatory's scientific officers began hosting TV weather programmes.

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A professional meteorologist appearing in a weather programme on television

1988

A new numerical weather prediction model (the Limited Area Model) focusing on small scale weather disturbances affecting Hong Kong and its vicinity was implemented.

Weather information and forecast for 23 world cities was sent to Government Information Services and Radio Television Hong Kong for dissemination to the media and the public.

The Observatory compiled the first publication on climate change in Hong Kong.

1990 The Monitoring and Assessment Centre (radiological) was established.
1992 A colour coded Red and Black Rainstorm Warning System was introduced.
1993 Measurement of ozone and radioactivity in the upper atmosphere started.

A Liaison Group for Aviation Weather Services was established, the first user group of the Observatory to engage user communities.

1994 The first Doppler weather radar started operation.

Historical Photos

The first Doppler weather radar installed at Tate's Cairn

Internet era
1996

The Observatory home page was launched on the Internet.

The "Friends of the Observatory" was established to enhance communication with the public and to promote public understanding of weather services.

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The inauguration ceremony of the "Friends of the Observatory"

 

The Observatory installed the first wind profiler in Hong Kong at Sham Shui Po.
1997 The Observatory resumed its original name "Hong Kong Observatory".

The seismological network was upgraded to a digital network with eight stations.

The Observatory commissioned an aerial monitoring system to enhance its capability in environmental radiation monitoring.

1998

A Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) began operational use for the Hong Kong International Airport, providing up-to-the-minute windshear and turbulence alerts to aircraft.

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The Observatory's Terminal Doppler Weather Radar at Tai Lam Chung

Range of forecast period for public weather forecast extended to 4 days.

Aviation meteorological service was moved from the old airport at Kai Tak to the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok in July 1998.

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The Chek Lap Kok Airport Meteorological Office commenced provision of aviation weather services for the new airport on 6 July 1998

The rainstorm warning system was revised to adopt a 3-level warnings classified as "Amber", "Red" and "Black" rainstorm warning signals.

1999 The Observatory commissioned another Doppler weather radar at Tai Mo Shan the highest peak in Hong Kong.

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Observatory's weather radar at Tai Mo Shan

A super-computer was acquired for the operation of a high resolution numerical weather prediction system (Operational Regional Spectral Model) and to enhance the capability of rainstorm forecasting.

An in-house developed rainfall nowcasting system, known as "Short-range Warning of Intense Rainstorms in Localized Systems", was put into operation.

Cold Weather Warning was introduced.

Provision of UV index commenced.

The Observatory and the Air Traffic Management Bureau (ATMB) of the Civil Aviation Administration of China signed a "Memorandum on Long Term Technical Cooperation in Aviation Meteorological Services"

Historical Photos

The Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (left) and Director of the Meteorological Division of ATMB (right) signing the "Memorandum on Long Term Technical Cooperation in Aviation Meteorological Services"

The Observatory started operating a Mobile Radiation Monitoring Station using a radiological survey vehicle.

2000

Operation of 5-day weather forecast commenced.

Very Hot Weather Warning was introduced.

The Observatory signed the "Agreement on Co-operation in Seismology between the China Earthquake Administration and the Hong Kong Observatory" with the China Earthquake Administration.

2001 The first mobile version of the Observatory's website was launched.

 

The first weather buoy in Hong Kong commenced operation.

Historical Photos

A weather buoy installed to the west of Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong

 

The last operating signal station at Cheung Chau closed down. It marked the end of an era of visual warning signals display at signal stations.

Historical Photos

The Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (4th from left), officiating at the closing ceremony of Cheung Chau signal station by lowering the No. 10 signal

Forecast of annual rainfall and the number of tropical cyclones affecting Hong Kong was made available to the public.

Severe Weather Information Centre (SWIC) website, developed and hosted by the Hong Kong Observatory on behalf of the World Meteorological Organization, was launched. This was the first international Internet website of official weather warnings around the world.

The Observatory signed the "Arrangement on Long Term Co-operation between the China Meteorological Administration and the Hong Kong Observatory" with the China Meteorological Administration.

2002 The "World Weather Information Service" website, which was developed and hosted by the Observatory on behalf of the World Meteorological Organization, was launched. This was the first international Internet web site of official weather forecasts for cities around the world.

 

The Observatory installed the world's first LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) system for use in airport weather alerting at Chek Lap Kok.

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The LIDAR on the roof-top of the Air Traffic Control Complex at Chek Lap Kok

 

The Observatory's aviation weather service received ISO 9001:2000 accreditation.

2003 Automatic weather reports were successfully received for the first time from commercial aircraft.

 

Range of forecast period for public weather forecast extended to 7 days.

2004 The Observatory started operating the first automatic Upper-air Sounding System in Southeast Asia.

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The Automatic Upper-air Sounding System at the King's Park Meteorological Station replacing manual launching of balloon

Time information of the Observatory's atomic clock was provided to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), contributing to determining the co-ordinated universal time (UTC).

The Observatory became the first weather service in Asia to operationally receive and disseminate automatic weather reports from commercial aircraft.

The first ground-based microwave radiometer was installed in Hong Kong for trial run.

The Observatory completed the first study of climate projection for Hong Kong for the next century.

2005 The Observatory set up a lightning location network in cooperation with the Guangdong Meteorological Bureau and the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau, and launched the lightning location information service.

Historical Photos

Press Conference covering the Inauguration Ceremony of the Pearl River Estuary Lightning Location Network set up jointly by Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao

 

The world's first LIDAR Windshear Alerting System developed by the Observatory for providing windshear alerting service began operation at the Hong Kong International Airport.

The Observatory commenced reception of satellite images from geostationary meteorological satellites in Fengyun-2 series of China and Japan's "Multi-functional Transport Satellite-1R (MTSAT-1R)".

2006 The Observatory launched the Ultraviolet (UV) Index forecast service.

The Observatory issued a Tsunami Information Bulletin for the first time for a severe earthquake that occurred over the Luzon Strait.

The Observatory operated the first climate prediction model to support the provision of seasonal forecast for the public.

2007

Launch of the Hong Kong Community Weather Information Network, making available to the public on the internet weather information collected by local schools and organizations.

The "One District One Station" project was launched with the establishment of an automatic weather station at Central and Western District at Hong Kong Park .

The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and the Observatory signed an agreement on co-operation in oceanography in Hong Kong.

Historical Photos

The Deputy Director of the State Oceanic Administration (left), and Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (right) signing the agreement on co-operation in oceanography

 

2008

The first regional temperature forecast was launched on the Observatory's website.

The automatic Airport Thunderstorm & Lightning Alerting System was launched.

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Launch of the airport thunderstorm and lightning alerting service

 

2009

The Observatory successfully registered a patent in Hong Kong for its in-house developed "Heat Stress Monitoring System".

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The Observatory's in-house developed "Heat Stress Monitoring System"

 

The Observatory's Radiation Laboratory received ISO 9001:2008 accreditation.

The Observatory launched weekly programmes on YouTube.

The Observatory started measurement of carbon dioxide concentration at King's Park Meteorological Station.

2010

The Observatory's Assistant Director was elected President of Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the highest position in WMO ever taken by Observatory's staff.

Historical Photos

The newly elected President of the Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology and Assistant Director of Hong Kong Observatory, Mr. C. M. Shun (second from right) pictured with the two former Presidents of the Commission, Dr Neil Gordon (1999 - 2006, left) and Mr. Carr McLeod (2006 - 2010, second from left)

 

Dissemination of weather information to the public through social networking platform (Twitter) commenced.

The mobile device application "MyObservatory" providing weather information to people on the move was launched.

A Liaison Group for the Shipping Community was established.

The Observatory commissioned the Po Shan Seismograph Station to enhance monitoring of earthquakes in the South China Sea. The station became a member of the Global Seismographic Network.

Historical Photos

The broadband seismometer in the Po Shan Seismograph Station

 

2011

The Observatory collaborated with Government Flying Service to deploy a fixed-wing aircraft for collecting meteorological data on tropical cyclones over the South China Sea for the first time.

Historical Photos

The meteorological measuring system installed on the fixed-wing aircraft, with the inset showing the air data probe on the wing tip

A quick earthquake message service, speeding up the delivery of earthquake reports to about 10 minutes on average, was launched.

The Observatory launched the Greater Pearl River Delta Weather website jointly with the Guangdong Meteorological Bureau and the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau.

The Observatory launched the "MyWorldWeather" mobile weather application on behalf of the World Meteorological Organization, which is the first mobile device application, providing official weather forecasts for cities around the world.

The Observatory signed a Long-term Co-operation Agreement in Numerical Weather Prediction Technology with the Shenzhen Meteorological Bureau.

Historical Photos

Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (right) signing the Long-term Co-operation Agreement in Numerical Weather Prediction Technology with Director-General of Shenzhen Meteorological Bureau (left).

 

2012

Webcast of Observatory's astronomical observation for the first time.

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Transit of Venus on 6 June 2012

 

The first X-band Doppler weather radar was commissioned.

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The X-band Doppler weather radar at Siu Ho Wan, Lantau Island

 

A personalized service of rain forecast for the next 2 hours was launched on "MyObservatory" mobile app.

The Observatory signed a Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation with the Korean Meteorological Administration.

Historical Photos

The Director of the Hong Kong Observatory, Mr Shun Chi-ming (left) and the Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, Mr Cho Seok Joon (right), after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

The Observatory signed a Long-term Co-operation Agreement in Numerical Weather Prediction Technology with the Guangdong Meteorological Bureau.

 

2013

Launched the Observatory mascot Dr. Tin to help promote public education activities.

The Observatory mascot Dr. Tin

The Observatory mascot "Dr. Tin"

Usage of the mobile application MyObservatory (in number of page views) exceeded that of the Observatory website for the first time.

Hong Kong Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS) was equipped with automatic weather station (AWS) for the first time to provide more frequent and timely marine meteorological observations. At the same time, part of the VOS fleet started to be upgraded to VOS Climate (VOSClim) to provide high-quality marine meteorological observations supporting global climate studies.

AWS installed on board the Hong Kong Voluntary Observing Ship

AWS installed on board the Hong Kong Voluntary Observing Ship

The Observatory started to acquire real-time Guangdong seismic data to the Hong Kong seismic monitoring network for enhancing the capability of monitoring local and nearby earthquakes.

Launched a free public TV weather service, through which weather programmes, including a weekly educational feature named Cool Met Stuff, produced in-house by the Observatory were broadcast on TV, YouTube and the MyObservatory mobile application.

The Observatory participated in the Twelfth Session of Working Group I of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which approved the Summary for Policymakers of the Fifth Assessment Report.

 

Last revision date: <14 Mar 2014>