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World Meteorological Day 2007

Speech of Mr C Y Lam, Director of Hong Kong Observatory

The World Meteorological Day falls on the 23rd of March every year. The theme this year is "Polar Meteorology - Understanding Global Impacts".

Heat energy is lost to space at the two poles all the time. The fundamental function of the atmosphere is to transport the excessive heat energy absorbed near the equator to the polar regions, thus replenishing the heat loss there and achieving a state of equilibrium. In other words, the coldness near the poles and the warmth of the equatorial regions together drive the perpetual air currents going north and south. These currents engender all kinds of weather phenomena which nurture numerous ecosystems fit for the habitation of all living things including mankind.

Some of you might already know that under the background of global warming, the sea ice inside the Arctic Circle is vanishing at a rapid rate, and the Antarctic ice shelves are disintegrating no less rapidly. But it seldom occurs to us that such changes in the polar ice can conversely influence air currents and weather systems of all scales, and bring about a chain reaction eventually impacting on the ecosystems. While the scenario depicted in the movie "Day After Tomorrow" is unlikely to happen in a couple of years, it is now coming into the view of our mental telescope within one or two centuries from now. Climate change has recently become the talk of the town, we should note that polar meteorology constitutes an important component of our climate.

I would like to take the opportunity to report on a number of developments in the Observatory. First of all, let me introduce my Assistant Directors. They are:

(1) Dr WONG Ming-chung, he is responsible for matters related to weather services;
(2) Dr LEE Boon-ying, he is responsible for matters related to radiation monitoring, instrumentation, etc;
(3) Mr WAI Hon-gor, he is responsible for the provision of aviation weather services; and
(4) Mr LEUNG Wing-mo, he is acting Assistant Director on behalf of Mr YEUNG Kai-hing who is now on leave, and is responsible for climate, geophysics, among others.

Last year, the financial and human resources remained largely the same as the year before. It was therefore a year of progress on a stable basis. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their hard work. In the civil service, there is no bonus at the end of the year nor any other financial/ material rewards for good work done. We are motivated by our devotion to the profession, and the satisfaction and sense of achievement derived from successfully completing projects after projects in the service of people.

The Observatory team is held in high regard internationally. Currently, seventeen colleagues are serving as experts in various positions in the World Meteorological Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Typhoon Committee. They take up eleven posts at the level of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, or Project Leaders, covering various areas ranging from disaster prevention, aviation meteorology, coordination of global weather websites etc. This is a testament to our scientific strength, our excellent service and the trust which the international meteorological community places on us.

Last year, we expanded the scope of our services to include Ultraviolet index forecast, weather reports at Tsuen Wan and Wetland Park, as well as webpages of more weather photos at various places in Hong Kong. On the scientific and technological front, we operated for the first time a numerical model covering the entire earth and applied it to produce seasonal forecast. This is something which I could never have dreamt of when I started my career at the Hong Kong Observatory. Furthermore, our continual effort and success to harness the capability of lidar in detecting and warning windshear at the airport has become a model for aviation weather services of modern airports. Our counterparts in Japan, the Republic of Korea and the mainland have come one after another to study our set-up.

Other notable events are the visit of Academician Qin Dahe, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration, to Hong Kong to celebrate the successful operation of the meteorological telecommunications circuit between Hong Kong and Beijing as it entered the 4th decade, and the signing of the agreement for long-term cooperation with the State Oceanic Administration, China, the scope of which includes work related to tsunami.

After Typhoon Prapiroon skirted Hong Kong to the southwest last August, there were significant repercussions in the community. We responded by reaching out widely to various sectors of the community, to understand public expectations and to receive suggestions. Last month, we announced the revised definitions of and the operational criteria for issuing the Number 3 and Number 8 Tropical Cyclone Warning Signals. We maintain an open-mind on this subject. After the typhoon season this year, we shall have another look at the matter, taking into account the experience gained and further feedback from the public. The work to cut out a system matching the expectation of the public never ends.

Looking ahead, in the coming year, we plan to embark on a "One District One Station" project. The objective is to set up at least one automatic weather station to measure the temperature in each of Hong Kong's 18 districts. The first additional stations will be set up in Kowloon City District, Eastern District, and Central and Western District. Weather stations for those districts not yet covered will follow.

In recent years, the local public is increasingly paying attention to climate change. The Hong Kong Observatory will strengthen the information content of relevant subjects in its website, to further enhance public understanding of this important subject. We also plan to develop an education kit for distribution to schools to support promotional activities in schools.

The 2008 Olympic is fast approaching. The Hong Kong Observatory will step up its effort to prepare for the event. This includes work related to the monitoring of heat stress on horses, providing weather services during the games in Hong Kong, running a nowcasting system to support Beijing Meteorological Bureau, and to provide weather support for the Hong Kong windsurfing team competing in Qingdao.

A broadband seismograph will be acquired to strengthen our capability to predict tsunami. Data received by the seismograph, together with those from similar seismographs all over the world, will be used to determine the details of the movement of the earth's plates during an earthquake. Such information will in turn be used together with the results of our computer simulations to estimate the height and arrival time of the tsunami generated if any.

This time every year, people always ask us about the rainfall amount and the number of tropical cyclones in the year. In terms of background, the El Nino event which started in the eastern Pacific in mid-2006 reached its peak last December and has dissipated rapidly in February. On this premise, our projections for 2007 are that the annual rainfall would be near normal, and that the number of tropical cyclones affecting Hong Kong would most probably be five to six.

I shall stop here. My assistant directors and myself will be happy to answer your questions.

Thank you.

23 March 2007