Typhoon Season: Utor

Summer in Hong Kong is time for spectating the weather. We watch the systems develop to the south, outside of the Philippines, and hope for two things: that it doesn’t damage the area too much, and that it hits us directly and gives us days off. We have watched different storms all summer, watched them go hundreds of miles west to Hainan, and watched them affect nations to the east.

Yesterday everyone was watching tropical storm Utor as it passed the Philippines and entered the South China Sea. The predicted path would have taken it just west of affecting our lives. But in the afternoon it started moving north. A third of the people in my office had the HK Observatory website open to the storm track on their browser. Even though it’s updated about once an hour, we refresh it constantly.

Left work at the regular time, after a little over 9 hours, and it was barely raining. The storm was moving ever closer.

Through the evening, we occasionally checked its progress: slowly moving northwest. Who knows. The observatory determines the typhoon signal (1, 3, 8, or 10, 8 and 10 mean everything shuts down) based on the wind speeds at their stations. So it’s proximity doesn’t actually matter as much as the conditions on the ground. At 1:40 AM they raised the signal from 3 to 8. While we slept it maintained speed.

Now we’re checking every hour. As it moves vaguely towards us, vaguely towards land. When the signal is lowered, from 8 to 3, we have two hours to return to regular duties.

There are no medium signals mostly because they don’t matter. There is no major difference in how you treat a 3 or a 6 typhoon, so they simply stopped using them. It’s much easier to change the signs in lobbies and MTRs only once rather than every 10 minutes. Makes sense.

The thing that makes me feel good about it, is how efficient and smart they are about the typhoons. Everything is sleek and done well, and it is rare that there is a casualty. Sometimes low buildings are damaged, homes closer to the jungle are affected more. But mostly the procedure is effective and simple. Stay home, officials do their business, people secure their belongings, and everyone stays home.

Now we wait. We’ll see if we ever have to get changed out of pajamas today. We probably do; my bet is that the signal is lowered at 1, and we go to work for 3. A half day is a nice pleasantry.

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