Hoisting the Warning

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If you’re not the type who constantly follows the weather, it’s a bit of a surprise when you see that a typhoon warning has been “hoisted,” as people in Hong Kong so quaintly put it. The first indications appear in office buildings, MTR stations and shopping malls: little signposts bearing a somewhat cryptic T1 logo, accompanied by the inscription, “Typhoon signal no. 1 is hoisted.” What this means, according to Hong Kong’s decidedly proactive weather observatory, is that a typhoon is within 850 kilometres of Hong Kong and, in the near future, more serious warnings might be issued.

After spotting the warning, the day’s still air and muggy humidity become more ominous: the calm before the storm, as the cliché would have it. The sense of anticipation increases as you spot more and more of the warning signs throughout the city, and even on TV, where a little “T1” is displayed in the upper left-hand corner. You can almost feel the increase in nervous energy among your fellow pedestrians, bus riders and ferry-goers.

Hong Kong’s typhoon warning system dates back to 1884, when a gun—and later a bomb—was set off to warn the public of an approaching storm. 1917 saw the introduction of the first numbered warning signals, the same system that is in use today, with the exception of a few small refinements. After the first warning is issued, the Hong Kong Observatory can issue a number 3 warning for “strong winds,” a number 8 warning for gale-force winds, a number 9 warning for gale winds that are increasing, and a dreaded number 10 warning for hurricane-force winds of 118 km/h or more. Separate warnings are issued for thunderstorms and heavy rainfall, which makes the typhoon season a bit of a game — which storm can collect the most warnings?

Last Wednesday, shortly after I arrived in Hong Kong, I experienced my first real typhoon. Severe Tropical Storm Kammuri, as it was officially known, passed within 150 kilometres of Hong Kong, lashing it with heavy rain and sometimes frighteningly strong winds. It started the evening before with otherwise innocuous rain; by the time I woke up the next morning, winds rolling in from the sea slammed into the windows, and periodic waves of fog and rain reduced visibility to no more than a few feet. The number 8 warning was issued just before rush hour, and nearly all bus and ferry services were suspended for the day; MTR trains ran every 15 minutes. Shops and offices were closed.

I discovered most of this from watching television. The weather was too scary to venture outside, so I stared out the window at empty, rain-lashed streets. By the early evening, however, the storm had subsided. There were news reports of a toppled bus and and a fallen neon sign, but nothing too serious. After an entire day spent indoors, stir-crazy people trickled out of their apartments to buy dinner or groceries, pressing on against a strong, damp wind.

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This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday August 11 2008at 01:08 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Environment, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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