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Friday, 25th April 2014

"Meteorological Series IV"

I had mixed feelings when I was invited to host the "Meteorological Series IV" jointly produced by Hong Kong Observatory and Radio Television Hong Kong. On one hand, I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of going through once again something similar to the very challenging adventures in the filming of "The Sinking Nations" in 2011: scorched by the unrelenting sun of Kiribati, and laid low by acute seasickness for several days after a fishing expedition for salmons with local fishermen, just to quote a couple of examples of rather unpleasant experience. But on the other hand, I was emotionally attached to the documentary series as I was closely involved in the production of previous episodes. In the end (actually it only took a few minutes to decide), sentiments ruled and I was to embark on a year's journey of discovery about phenomena associated with weather and nature.

I worked with four directors on four different stories, i.e. typhoons, drought and water resource, rainstorm and flood, as well as the cryosphere. By themselves, each of these stories is important in its own right. But they are all part of a bigger picture of climate change, an aggravating problem that many scientists consider as the most pressing crisis facing mankind, and a crisis that the Philippines lead negotiator in the Warsaw climate summit called "madness", after the devastation Super Typhoon Haiyan had brought to his country in November 2013. While this became an underlying concept for the series, the telling of the stories managed to steer away from an indoctrinating approach through a narrow ideological point of view. Instead, by presenting the objective facts as they were found and exploring the underlying causes of the crisis we were facing, we allowed the audience to come to their own conclusions.

There was no lack of interesting people and events during the production process. There was this cheerful Kazakhstan girl who brought us to meet her people in Tianshan ( 天山 ) in Xinjiang. She had a major foot operation not so long ago that handicapped her mobility. But as she took us up the treacherous mountain slope to visit her shepherd brother, she was always in the lead and negotiated the terrain better than anyone of us who were supposed to be physically sound. And there was this glacier scientist who, despite wearing a pair of formal leather shoes, could skip through the rocks and glacier with such ease that we could only envy and admire.

In Vietnam, a small boat carrying our director and the filming crew capsized. While no one was hurt, there was a real concern that tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment had to be written off. And yet, the director demonstrated his high EQ by taking it with exceptional humour, and described to us excitingly and amusingly in graphic details the way they reacted as the mishap unfolded. In Queensland, Australia, we met a farmer who suffered a tremendous loss of income as a result of an 18-month drought. But he simply considered it as just part of the ups and downs in life. His resilience under such testing circumstances was most impressive, particularly at a time when many other farmers in the area suffered from mental stress and depression, with some of them even taking their own lives.

Last but not least, there was this fearless death-squad-of-three (the director, camera man and sound man) who ventured into the very eye of Super Typhoon Haiyan to capture astounding images of the extreme power of nature. Unfortunately for me, I had to leave the Philippines early because of prior engagement; otherwise I definitely would have joined them to make it a fearless death-squad-of-four. After all, a close encounter with the "most intense typhoon to make landfall" would make for a rather impressive CV as a meteorologist.

Unless one is personally involved in the production works, one cannot really appreciate the tremendous task the production team has undertaken. I am aware that recently many members of the team, including the Executive Producer, have spent many sleepless nights in the studios to complete the post-production works. I certainly hope that the documentary will be as perfect as we strive for; but whatever the outcome, my special kudos to all of them as well as other unsung heroes behind the scenes and, taking this opportunity, my best wishes for a successful airing of the documentary series.

Leung Wing-mo (host of "Meteorological Series IV")

Note: The documentary will be broadcast at 7:30 pm on TVB Jade and RTHK TV31 for four consecutive Saturdays starting from 26 April. A trailer for preview can also be seen online:

Figure 1

Figure 1      The greatest challenge in filming in the forsaken farmland in Australia is not the almost 40 degrees of
heat nor the ultra strong UV, but to avoid any of the thousands of flies getting into my mouth.

Figure 2

Figure 2      Months of dry weather rendered Queensland practically grassless. The farmer had to spend nearly
A$100,000 a year to buy corns for his 2,000 sheep - a significant increase in costs.

Figure 3

Figure 3      We are not taking a leisure boat ride, but inspecting the inundated rice field of a Vietnam farmer
(the old man on the left). On the way back, the boat carrying the director and the camera
man capsized. Fortunately, all escaped injury.

Figure 4

Figure 4      The cheerful Kazakhstan girl with her shepherd brother, against the backdrop of Tianshan, Xinjiang.

Figure 5

Figure 5      A big pool (called a "dam" by Queenslanders) to collect rainwater for herds in a Queensland farm
dried up during the recent drought and became a death trap for sheep that got mired
in the sticky mud. Remains of sheep were seen scattered here.

Last revision date: <13 Jun 2014>