The Director of the Hong Kong Observatory, Dr Lam Hung-kwan, announced in a press conference today (March 23), the World Meteorological Day, that the Observatory will start immediately trial run of an audio web page to improve the accessibility of the Observatory web pages by the visually impaired. Dr Lam also announced the launch of an experimental seasonal forecasting service this year.
Dr Lam said, "In addition to the audio part, shortcut keys are implemented on the new audio web page to make browsing of the web pages a snap."
"These facilities have been developed in consultation with the Hong Kong Blind Union and the web pages are tested by their members," said Dr Lam while demonstrating the new web page. The Observatory and the Hong Kong Blind Union has jointly prepared a user guide in braille for the users.
Dr Lam said, "According to present schedule, the audio web page will be fully operational in mid-2001."
Apart from weather reports and forecasts, weather information on world cities, tidal information and astronomical information are also available on the audio web page. Moreover, media briefings by scientific officers when Tropical Cyclone Signal No. 8 or above is hoisted will also be available.
The internet weather services operated by the Observatory is popular in recent years. There were on average 4.6 million visits to the Observatory homepage each month last year. This is about 40 times of the average 110 000 visits recorded when the service started in 1996.
"Analogue and statistical methods indicate that the climate of Hong Kong is influenced by many factors. Two prominent factors are El Nino and La Nina. Due to the differences in strength, time of occurrence and other variations during El Nino or La Nina episodes, the effect of each episode varies," said Dr Lam.
The strong El Nino episode in 1997 had brought periods of heavy rain to Hong Kong. During the strong La Nina episode in 1999, four tropical cyclones made landfall over the territory and the first Hurricane Signal No. 10 since 1983 was hoisted.
Dr Lam said, "The current La Nina episode has been weakening since the end of 1999 and is expected to dissipate gradually this year. Hence, we forecast that the number of tropical cyclones affecting Hong Kong will be near normal this year; that is about six. The annual rainfall amount will also be around normal at about 2 200 millimetres."
"As the technology of seasonal forecasting is still at the early development stage, the Observatory will conduct research studies in this area and our effort has now started. We shall continue research and development of forecasting tools, and review the accuracy and applicability of various techniques. The results will be reviewed at the end of year 2002 and further work will also be planned," Dr Lam said.
Dr Lam said, "I hope our seasonal forecast will cover more elements in the near future."
Although no Tropical Cyclone Signal No. 8 was hoisted last year, Dr Lam urged the public to take necessary precautionary measures against potential typhoon damages.
Dr Lam said, "The rainy and typhoon season in Hong Kong is about to start. Members of the public should check the conditions of windows and doors. Owners of overhanging advertising signs should ensure that these structures are safe and secure. Gutters and drains should also be cleared of debris. People living in low-lying areas and in areas with poor drainage should take precautions against flooding. Private slope owners should ensure that their slopes are kept in good conditions, and that there is adequate drainage for rainwater. Precautionary measures should also be taken by the public to minimise their exposure to risk of potential landslips. Employers and employees should work out some arrangements beforehand, such as rules on report for duty, release from work and resumption of work in the event of a rainstorm."
The theme of World Meteorological Day this year is "Volunteers for Weather, Climate and Water". On this day, Dr Lam expressed his gratitude towards the volunteer observers collecting meteorological information for the Observatory. They include officers on ships and aircraft, as well as volunteer observers from local government and civil organisations.
In celebration of the World Meteorological Day, the Observatory will hold an exhibition at its headquarters at 134A Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui on the coming Saturday and Sunday (March 24 and 25). Members of the public are welcome to visit the exhibition using the Nathan Road entrance. Opening hours for admission will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 24 and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 25. The exhibition will be closed at 4:45 p.m. No ticket will be required.