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Tuesday, 26th August 2008

Nuri in Hong Kong

During the passage of Typhoon Nuri between 20 and 23 August, Observatory colleagues were terribly busy for four days and three nights. Here come my most sincere thanks to them for their great efforts.

Around 5 p.m. on the 22nd, the centre of Nuri's eye landed near Sai Kung. It then made a mysterious turn towards the west, crossing Victoria Harbour, skirting to the south of Tsing Yi and crossing the north-eastern corner of Lantau. A north-westward turn followed, taking the centre across the Tuen Mun - Yuen Long area. It entered Deep Bay by 9 p.m., four hours after landing. Because the size of the eye was also large, the winds in many places were fairly light for a rather long time. It created for some people the impression that Nuri did not bring very high winds.

Hong Kong has indeed been incredibly lucky lately. Firstly, the Olympic equestrian event was sandwiched between two typhoons and yet it miraculously escaped their impact. Secondly, had there been small deviations in the track of Nuri, the urban areas would have been hit by much higher winds.

During the approach of Nuri in the morning and the early afternoon of the 22nd, Hong Kong was under northerly to north-westerly winds. Owing to the sheltering effect of the hills in the New Territories, winds in the urban areas were much lighter than those in exposed areas. Furthermore, owing to the enhanced westward movement of the eye after crossing Hong Kong, the typical south-westerly squalls in the "typhoon's tail" lasted shorter than usual. We therefore escaped with great luck much of the damage which those squalls could have caused.

Had the overall track of Nuri shifted slightly, say 20-30 km towards the west, Nuri would have skirted to the south of Hong Kong, like Typhoon York in 1999, for which the number 10 signal was hoisted. We would have gone through a totally different experience. Wind direction would have veered from north-west to north-east and then to south-east. Victoria Harbour would have been exposed to the full force of the gales ahead of Nuri. In a different scenario, had Nuri spent more time moving towards the north after crossing Hong Kong, the "typhoon's tail" would have brought frightening rain squalls.

I am explaining these potential situations with the hope that it would lead people to realize how incredibly lucky Hong Kong has been lately. Hopefully we would all learn to live with more thankfulness in our thoughts.

Every time after a typhoon passage, certain people would focus on the negative and criticize the Observatory for this or that fault. Hong Kong is a free and liberal society; all have the freedom to express their views. Thus I am open to such diversity of views. I also encourage my colleagues to see these views as a reflection of how much people value our service. Furthermore, I request them to distill from the numerous criticisms or opinions, ideas which we could employ to improve our service.

However, on this occasion, while we operated the signal system thoughtfully to ensure that most workers avoided the danger of returning home in severely crowded public transport and in rain squalls brought by the approaching eye, we were surprised to hear certain people alleging that we manipulated data to enable ourselves to issue a number 8 signal which was "unnecessary". On another matter, we issued the number 9 signal to warn people of the passage of the eye and to alert them to sudden changes in wind direction and speed. But we were teased for doing so on the ground that we knew not which number 8 signal to issue in terms of direction. Whoever said these words might have done it inadvertently, but Observatory people are really hurt. If these are to be what we get in return for our hard work every time, how could people be motivated in the future?

What made me truly sad was a press report that someone claimed that the number 8 signal was unnecessary because winds were not strong enough to "move people". This is a typical case of a single person projecting his experience at a single location to represent the overall situation in Hong Kong. The truth during the passage of Nuri was that at least two persons lost their lives and 70 were hurt. According to press reports, three persons got hurt because they were blown off their feet. How many more people have to be killed or hurt before a number 8 signal is necessary?

May I call for a higher degree of rationality as well as sensibilities in the exercise of the freedom of speech? In discussions, we should state the facts, explain the reasons, mutually respect each other and listen well. Then we would be truly living the spirit of liberty and democracy. Only then would we derive synergy through the harmonious amalgamation of the energy of the individuals for the greater public good.

Finally, I must reiterate my gratitude to my colleagues at the Observatory. For many years, they have worked passionately and contributed in many ways to the well-being of Hong Kong. For many years, they have to suffer innumerable unreasonable criticisms and groundless insults. But still they persevere and deliver service to the public with unswerving dedication. With such colleagues, what more could I ask for!

C.Y. Lam

Schematic track of Typhoon Nuri
Schematic track of Typhoon Nuri : If the track on the 21st is extrapolated forward, Nuri would have passed to the south of Hong Kong. Note also the meandering track within Hong Kong as well as the sudden westward turn after crossing Hong Kong. The arrows linked to the circles show where Nuri was when the relevant typhoon signals were issued.

Last revision date: <17 Jan 2013>