New storm of criticism must be dodged

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Oct 2021

Typhoon Lionrock wreaked havoc in the SAR - but it was the weathermen at the observatory taking most of the blame, including the tragic death of a female worker.

Is it fair to blame the observatory?

There's no denying that it could have done better, even though weather prediction remains an inexact science despite the availability of satellites and powerful computers.

At the very least, observatory director Cheung Cho-ming should monitor the stormy weather developing on the ground to spare the public from again going through the extreme confusion that occurred during the turbulent 24 hours.

In the space of those hours, Hongkongers experienced a tropical storm signal No 3 that, many felt, was more battering than a No 8.

The rainstorm warnings from amber to black over an extremely short of time also took everyone off-guard.

The contradictory indications from the observatory culminated in a No 8 signal that, ironically, was calmer than a No 3.

Cheung and his scientific officers may plead innocent, but you cannot blame cynics for cracking jokes on social media along the lines that, if it were a true No 8, the No 3 signal preceding it should have been a No 10.

The observatory's scientific data might disagree with the comparison, but the gap appeared to be just too large to comprehend. Why the huge discrepancy?

It would help to inspire confidence if the observatory held a press conference to elaborate on the information it had been able to gather from its monitors.

The public would listen with a sympathetic ear.

It was not the first time the observatory was criticized over its weather warnings.

Back when Donald Tsang Yam-keun was chief executive, the observatory was accused of seriously underestimating a summer storm.

By coincidence, the typhoon during a debate in the Legislative Council on a major government initiative.

It was also by coincidence that on Friday as the No 3 signal was hoisted, a group of district council members were scheduled to take the oath to pledge allegiance to the country. The ceremony was completed as scheduled.

The public may not blame the observatory too harshly despite the disruptive impact we just experienced since their job should be based on science and data.

Nonetheless, director Cheung should be in a position to react promptly to actual circumstances on the ground.

In the wake of what happened on that chaotic day, he could have done much better in giving sufficient warning to the public.

Tomorrow, tropical storm Kompasu is predicted to enter within 800 kilometers of Hong Kong and is on track to pass about 350 kilometers south of the city on Wednesday.

I have little doubt that, after the bitter Lionrock drama, the observatory will be more than ready to react to Kompasu this time around.

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October 2021

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