Director of the Hong Kong Observatory, Mr. LAM Chiu-ying told the press today (21 March) that "Service based on Science" is the guiding philosophy of the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO). The HKO will actively embrace appropriate technologies and adopt new measures to serve changing needs, in step with evolving social circumstances. In the press conference, Mr. Lam also reported on HKO's recent achievements and coming projects.
The HKO developed and took charge of the "World Weather Information Service" web site of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of the United Nations. The web site started to provide official weather forecasts for cities around the world in 2002. The HKO is now firmly established as a world-class weather centre. To date, weather forecasts for 740 cities from 76 countries and territories, as well as climatological information of 151 countries and territories are delivered by the web site. Furthermore, the HKO on behalf of the WMO hosted three international meteorological courses for 11 countries last year to help them enhance their weather services.
In November 2002, the HKO became one of the first aviation weather services in the world to be awarded the ISO 9001 certification. The HKO installed the world's first LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) system for airport weather alerting, aimed at detecting windshear in fine weather. Mr. Lam said, "In recognition of the HKO's achievements, Miss Sharon Lau of the HKO was invited to serve on the Management Group of the Commission on Aeronautical Meteorology of the WMO. This is the highest position in the international community held by a Hong Kong lady meteorologist so far."
Locally, HKO worked hard to develop internet weather services. Its web site is one of the most popular government web sites. It handled 180 million page hits in 2002, a 60% increase from the 2001 figure. A record rate of 4.3 million page hits in a day was served during a typhoon attack. Such figures are rarely seen in the world.
HKO's network time service allows people especially those engaged in e-business to calibrate their computer clocks. The e-certification system of the Hong Kong Post is also synchronized to the atomic clock of the HKO. In 2002, on average 5 computers were connected to the HKO's network time service every second.
In another little-known development, the HKO built a mobile automatic weather station unit for the Hong Kong Police Force. This unit helps frontline staff on incident site to estimate the dispersion of harmful substances and determine the appropriate action.
Mr. Lam said, "While the HKO's work is firmly based on science, the human factor is also given much weight. We value direct communication with members of the public." In addition to scientific officers hosting TV weather programmes, increasingly staff of the HKO also tell the weather in person in morning radio programmes. Recently HKO staff are hosting a weekly radio programme to promote weather knowledge among audiences. Officers also give talks to primary schools to spread knowledge about typhoons among students. Apart from the science of weather, preparedness against natural disasters is promoted in these activities.
"To address public concerns about students going to schools in typhoon situations, the HKO has had close liaison with the Education and Manpower Bureau and will implement new measures in the coming typhoon season. Directorate staff will be in close contact and the operation units will co-operate to ensure the timely announcement of school closure when Tropical Cyclone Signal Number 8 is issued." Mr. Lam said.
In line with the increase in commuter traffic in the Pearl River Delta region, the HKO has been enhancing its weather information service covering Macao and places in Guangdong. The HKO has been in close co-operation with the meteorological services in Macao and Guangdong for many years. In 2003, the three services will discuss further on projects on the exchange of radar information, short-range rain prediction etc., with a view to enhance the overall weather service in the region.
To help people plan outdoor activities especially water sports, astronomical and tidal prediction data two years in advance will be available on the HKO web site starting today. The new data will include time of sunrise, sunset, high and low tides for any day in 2004 and 2005.
The HKO will acquire a replacement upper air sounding system. The release of balloons for upper air sounding will be mostly automated starting next year, relieving staff of the danger of operating hydrogen and saving some manpower. The HKO will also increase the use of wind energy at its Automatic Weather Station (AWS) sites. Not only will this guarantee uninterrupted supply of power, special data will be collected for studies in the exploitation of wind energy in Hong Kong.
In terms of weather, Mr. Lam said, "Indications are that El Nino which affected the world last year is abating. The sea surface temperature over the Pacific will resume normal. Statistics suggest that the number of tropical cyclone affecting Hong Kong this year will tend to be slightly less than normal. The chance of having a wet year is rather high."
Mr. Lam said, "Although there is appreciable improvement in the accuracy of weather forecasts in the past years, government cannot possibly hope to cater for all the particular situations encountered by individuals. The most effective means to minimise the impact of severe weather is to take precautions proactively." Mr. Lam urged members of the public to check the structures of their residence and familiarise themselves with contingency responsive measures in severe weather, before the onset of rain and typhoons this year. Knowing what to do during emergencies will ensure personal safety. Mr. Lam stressed that all have to act to avert natural disasters.
To celebrate the 120th anniversary of the HKO and the World Meteorological Day, the HKO will hold an exhibition open to the public this coming Saturday and Sunday (22, 23 March) at its Headquarters. Admission is free. The public should make use of the HKO's main entrance at Nathan Road for access.