As is it summer, so it is typhoon season once again in Asia. With the impact of Super Typhoon Mangkhut on Hong Kong in September 2018, following on from Typhoon Hato that hit Hong Kong and Macao in August 2017, it is appropriate to provide some information whilst also dispelling some myths.
Why does Hong Kong experience typhoons?
Due to the geographic location of Hong Kong, the city is prone to seasonally stormy weather. Typhoon ‘season’ is generally from May through to early November (late Spring through to early Autumn), with the peak in September at the height of summer temperatures and humidity.
The typhoon season for Hong Kong and the region is aligned with hurricane season in the Caribbean, and Central and North America. Witness the massive Category 5 Hurricane Dorian now hitting the Bahamas and the east coast of the United States just two weeks shy of the anniversary of Typhoon Manghut hitting Hong Kong in September 2018.
Hong Kong is actually incredibly well prepared for adverse weather conditions. The Hong Kong Observatory has an invaluable Smartphone App (for Android, iOS and Windows). This keeps the population well aware of any impending weather threats – from heat warnings and thunderstorm alerts, to rain warnings and typhoon tracking. When it comes to typhoons, this means that the emergency services, businesses and the general population can be fully aware of the impending storm, when and where it is likely to make landfall. For example, with Super Typhoon Mangkhut there was at least a week to prepare ahead of the storm reaching Hong Kong.
With all this in mind, it is important to know what to do (and what not to do) when a typhoon does strike. First of all, there is the warning signal system, and an advised course of action to take when each one is hoisted. There is a corresponding set of actions recommended as each signal is announced.
(fun fact – although the signal is now broadcast electronically, it is still referred to as being ‘hoisted’ as if it’s a warning flag being raised on a flagpole)
Hong Kong’s typhoon signals explained
What it Means: A storm has been identified that could develop into a typhoon, and the storm is centred within 800km of Hong Kong
What to Do: Don’t panic, continue your day as normal. Keep an eye out for any updates, and be aware there could be a high and strong swells – so ocean swimming may be ill-advised
What it Means: When the T3 signal is hoisted, you can expect heavy rain and strong winds of up to 110kmph. The winds generally peak in HK within 12hrs of the signal being raised; winds offshore and over high ground could reach gale force. This is actually quite a common event – the T3 signal is raised about 12x annually
What to Do: Still don’t panic. Public transport will run normally, although some ferry services may be cancelled.
Early Years Childcare Centres (pre-schools, nurseries and kindergartens) will close, with school bus services either running early or children needing to be collected from school*. Some businesses may also close.
If you have a rooftop terrace or balcony, tie down/ bring inside all furniture and loose items. Lock windows securely and don’t leave your washing out!
What it Means: You get to go home! This means that gale force (or stronger) winds are approaching HK at sea level with a sustained wind speed between 63 – 117kmph and gusts that may exceed 180kmph.
A public warning is issued at least 2 hours in advance of a T8 signal being raised, giving plenty of time for preparation.
What to Do: Everything closes when the T8 signal is raised – schools, restaurants, public transport, ferries, trains and most shops and most flights.
But still, don’t panic. You should be indoors, ensure that all windows and doors are properly secured and all outdoor items are indoors or very firmly secured.
Settle in with a cup of tea, a good book or employ UN-worthy negotiation techniques to decide what movie all the kids are happy to watch on Netflix.
What it Means: A T9 signal is quite rare, and is issued when gale force winds are either increasing in strength or are expected to increase significantly in strength to 180 – 220kmph
What to Do: When a T9 signal is issued, you should already be at home with your streaming watchlist prepped and board games at the ready.
Essentially the same directions as for a T8 should be followed – stay indoors, ensure all windows and doors are secured, stay aware from windows and stay calm until things calm down again.
What it Means: This signal level means that the eye of the storm is passing very close to, or over Hong Kong, and hurricane force winds are expected or are currently being experienced, with sustained wind speeds upwards of 118kmph and gusts that may exceed 220kmph. The T10 signal is actually rare for Hong Kong, with only 16 T10-rated storms hitting HK in the 72yrs since 1946.
What to Do: Things are pretty serious now, but there is still no reason to panic. Hong Kong is skilled with dealing with, and recovering from typhoons. There should have been several days’ warning that a T10 signal could be raised by the time the signal is actually hoisted.
As with T8 and T9 storms, stay indoors, secure windows and doors, stay away from windows, try to remain calm and check the HKO app for news and updates. Try to enjoy the excuse for a family movie, puzzles and boardgames day.
Above all, don’t panic! Hong Kong has been built, for the most part, to withstand these severe storms. The high rise buildings are constructed to allow them to flex in the winds – although this means that they will survive the onslaught, it does mean that motion sickness can be an issue! Throughout much of Hong Kong, essential utilities are all buried – meaning that electricity, water and internet connectivity tends to be uninterrupted. Exceptions to this can be villages in the New Territories and on the outer islands, where flooding and power outages can be more likely.
Generally speaking, taping windows is not necessary, although it is wise to stay away from windows and draw curtains or blinds – just in case a window does get blown out or shattered by being hit by flying debris. If a window does shatter, remove essential items (and furniture, if possible) from the room and close the door. The advice about firmly securing outdoor items must be followed – anything can be picked up by T10 gales.
During Typhoon Mangkhut there were numerous images on social media of flying outdoor sofas, tables and other items that had escaped their moorings. An indication what to expect if you are ever caught in the path of a T10 storm can be seen here:
The recovery of Hong Kong in the week following Mangkhut was nothing short of incredible. The emergency services were working on clearing roads of debris even during the storm, and while there was a lot of cleaning up required, some businesses were open as normal within 12hrs of the storm signal being lowered from T10 to T8.