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Thursday, 9th May 2013

The "Geng-Zi" typhoon disaster in 1900

While about 90 percent of the tropical cyclones affecting Hong Kong occur between June and October, tropical cyclone warnings have been issued in November or even into early December due to the approach of some late-season "autumnal typhoons". Typhoons approaching the South China coast late in the year are often weakened by the northeast monsoon. However, in the early hours of 10 November 1900, Hong Kong was caught off guard by the fierce winds of a typhoon. Since the year 1900 was the "Geng-Zi" year in the Chinese calendar, this late-autumn typhoon event was called the "Geng-Zi typhoon disaster ( 庚子風災 )". Despite being one of the deadliest in Hong Kong history, this typhoon event is less known to many people when compared with the other major pre-World War II typhoon disasters in 1874, 1906, and 1937. Therefore, we have collated information from a number of government reports, newspapers and historical meteorological records published around that time to unveil further details about this autumnal typhoon disaster[1-6].

The ignored typhoon signals

The typhoon originated over the sea to the east of the Philippines on 5 November 1900. It tracked northwestward in the next couple of days and entered the South China Sea on 7 November. It then gradually turned northward edging towards the coast of Guangdong during 8 and 9 November (Figure 1). Based on the weather map at the time and the modern re-analysis, this typhoon appeared to be relatively large in size with a circulation of around 800 to 1000 kilometres in diameter (Figures 2 and 3). As such, both the Manila Observatory and Hong Kong Observatory had given due warnings to the public of the existence of this typhoon over the South China Sea. In Hong Kong, typhoon signals were hoisted starting from 8 November to warn the public of an approaching typhoon[5] . By 6:15 p.m. on 9 November, typhoon gun was fired to warn the public that gale force winds were expected in Hong Kong.

Figure 1

Figure 1      Track of the centre of the "Geng-Zi" Typhoon from 5 to 10 November 1900.

Figure 3

Figure 3      Re-analysis of mean sea level pressure and 10-min Wind on 9 November 1900.
(Source : NOAA 20th Century "Reanalysis"[7] ).

With the typhoon approaching, the northeasterly winds in Hong Kong strengthened and reached gale force on the night of 9 November 1900. By 4 a.m. on 10 November, winds reached storm force at the