Speech by Director of Hong Kong Observatory

    The following is a speech given by the Director of the Hong Kong Observatory, Mr Lam Chiu-ying, today (March 17) at a meet-the-media session (English translation).

     World Meteorological Day falls on March 23 each year. This year, its theme is "Preventing and Mitigating Natural Disasters".

     Weather is often widely reported as the "cause" of disasters after the event. This is very unfortunate. If weather was recognised as a potential hazard and then something was done about it beforehand, then we could minimise human suffering and material loss.

     Indeed, the heavy costs of disaster relief and reconstruction far exceed those of disaster prevention and mitigation.

     Since its inception, the Hong Kong Observatory has always placed great emphasis on disaster prevention and mitigation. Our climatological data have been applied to enable engineering designs so that buildings, bridges, highways etc. could withstand the assaults of wind and rain. Our weather forecasts enable the Hong Kong community to take precautionary measures to "ride out the storm". In light of global climate change, we appeal to the community time and again to take notice and prepare for more extreme weather events in the future.

     I would like to take the opportunity to report on certain developments at the Observatory. First of all, let me introduce to you my four Assistant Directors. They are:

(1) Mr Yeung Kai-hing -- he is responsible for matters related to climate and geophysics, among others;
(2) Dr Lee Boon-ying -- he is responsible for matters related to radiation monitoring and instrumentation, etc;
(3) Mr Wai Hon-gor -- he is responsible for the provision of aviation weather services; and
(4) Mrs Hilda Lam -- she is acting on behalf of Dr Wong Ming-chung, who is now in Korea doing a presentation on my behalf.

     In the Financial Year 2005 íV 2006, the total number of civil service posts and non-civil service contract staff remained unchanged. The uncertainty that we faced in the past few years has finally subsided. It was therefore a year of steady progress. The results of internal surveys show that there have been improvements in both the morale and work satisfaction of my staff. The morale index rose from a below-par score of 4.1 in 2003 to 5.7 by late 2005. That for job satisfaction also rose, from 5.4 to 6.4. I would like to thank all my colleagues for their contribution towards the building of a positive and happy working environment.

     Late last year, the Observatory emerged as the champion in the Departmental Award for Service Enhancement Competition (small department category) of the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme. Our website has also won a number of awards. While we are very much encouraged by the appreciation and approval of the community, we will never be complacent and stay with the status quo. We know very well that people always expect more. We must put in our best otherwise we could sink into oblivion.

     In the past year, we introduced a number of new services, expanded the scope of exchange and collaboration with different sectors of the community and initiated several projects to strengthen our scientific and technological capability. Many of the items are documented in the attachment and I am not going to explain at length. I would instead like to spend a few minutes to tell you how the international community sees the work of the Observatory.

     To many people in Hong Kong, the Observatory is perhaps an innocuous organisation. However, internationally, it is a meteorological department held in high regard. We are world-famous in our contribution to disaster prevention and mitigation through the dissemination of a spectrum of weather warnings which trigger the community to combat the onslaught of adverse weather. In the middle of last year, I had the honour of being invited to deliver a speech on the subject to the Executive Council of the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). My Assistant Director, Dr Wong Ming-chung currently serves as the Chairman of WMO's Working Group on Disaster Prevention and Mitigation in Asia.

     After the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, my Assistant Director, Mr Yeung Kai-hing represented WMO in special visits to Pakistan and Myanmar to help study the setting up of a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean. Mr Yeung visited Pakistan again in late 2005, this time in the capacity as a WMO consultant to help formulate an action plan to rehabilitate the meteorological services in Pakistan after the disastrous earthquake of October 2005. In the past year, several other colleagues were invited to serve as experts to deliver keynote speeches at international conferences, as lecturers at training courses and as coordinators of international collaborative projects. Recently, one of our Scientific Officers spent a month working at the WMO Headquarters in Geneva to develop draft guidelines for the future reference of all meteorological services worldwide.

     Through such activities, my colleagues open their horizons while helping our meteorological counterparts in developing countries. Furthermore, such experience prompts them to appreciate better how our work relates to local social development.

     Looking ahead, in the coming year, we shall continue to strive for steady progress. In terms of services, we have started to present on our website -- on an experimental basis -- seasonal climate forecasts which will be updated every quarter. In response to the public's interest in ultraviolet (UV) radiation, we will start providing UV index forecasts. On regional weather information, we will enhance the coverage by providing weather information at two more points, Tsuen Wan and Central District, on the internet.

     On the technological side, we will strengthen further the capability of our "nowcasting" system to forecast rainfall several hours ahead. This summer, the prototype computer system in this connection will take part in a forecast demonstration project in support of the 2008 Olympic in Beijing. This is the first round of competing with similar systems of other countries. It will be an opportunity for us to interact with our international counterparts and to improve our capability in this area of work.

     We have also reached a consensus with the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, which is responsible for providing official weather services for the Olympic Games in Beijing. Colleagues of the Observatory will serve as consultants to assist the bureau in the next couple of years in planning-related meteorological developments.

     The equestrian events of the 2008 Olympic will be held in Hong Kong. We have already started work related to weather services for the events. A meteorological observing system for assessing the weather stress index relevant to horses is being developed. It will be set up to collect the necessary climatological information this summer and again in 2007, for the reference of parties involved in organising the events.

     The third venue of the 2008 Olympic is Qingdao. Following the example of what we did in the 2004 Athens Olympic, the Observatory will provide meteorological support to the Hong Kong windsurfing team in Qingdao.

     After the Indian tsunami, the Observatory has obtained a numerical model to simulate tsunamis triggered by submarine earthquakes as a tool to strengthen our understanding of this phenomenon. Test runs of the model will be conducted this year with a view to building up a solid foundation for tsunami alerts in the future.

     Another rather interesting piece of work is the study of the relationship between climate and human health, and the long-term trend in related indices in the context of climate change.

     This time every year, people always ask us about the expected rainfall and the number of tropical cyclones this year. Broadly speaking, there is currently a slight indication of La Nina in the eastern Pacific. But the majority opinion of the meteorological community is that the La Nina-like condition will gradually vanish. On this premise, our projection is that the annual rainfall this year will be near normal, and the number of tropical cyclones affecting Hong Kong will be 5 to 6.

     But I must emphasise that because both the population and wealth are highly concentrated in Hong Kong, any individual rainstorm or typhoon has the potential to cause great damage. I plead to everyone of you: please be vigilant and diligent before the onset of the typhoon and rainy season. Do check whether there is any point of vulnerability at home or at your place of work.  Otherwise you could expose yourself to the full force of the storm.

     Talking about tropical cyclones, I have an announcement to make in connection with the operation of the Tropical Cyclone Warning System in Hong Kong. The Stand-by Signal No. 1 means that "a tropical cyclone is centred within about 800 kilometres of Hong Kong and may later affect Hong Kong". The phrase "affect Hong Kong" has not been clearly defined in the past. After reviewing the operation of the warning system in recent years and taking into consideration the suggestions of friends from different sectors, we have decided to take "strong winds in Hong Kong waters" as a part of the definition of "affect Hong Kong". In the future, the main difference in our operation is that as a tropical cyclone departs, the Strong Wind Signal No. 3 will most likely be followed by the No. 1 Signal. It would serve to remind the public to be cautious about strong winds still affecting the nearby sea areas.

     Lastly, I would like to share with you my cherished memories of the late Director, Mr Gordon Bell. This is the 25th anniversary of Mr Bell's death. Mr Bell headed the Observatory for 16 years from 1965 to 1981, and was the longest-serving Director after World War II. He was a man with many interests. Weather maps, radio technology, computer programming íV you name it, Mr Bell was good at it. We owe much to Mr Bell for taking the foundation onto the course of modernisation and computerisation.

     The establishment in 1975 of a direct telecommunication link between the Hong Kong Observatory and the National Meteorological Centre in Beijing was made possible as a result of Mr Bell's perseverance in the face of numerous obstacles. It set the precedent for a Hong Kong Government department to communicate with Beijing. Mr Bell had planned to publish a book on tropical cyclones after his retirement, but the project was brought to an abrupt halt as a result of his sudden death on his retirement in 1981.

     Last year, we found photocopies of the unfinished manuscript of the book. With the blessing of Mrs Bell, an electronic version of the manuscript was published under the "Historical Publications" series of the Hong Kong Observatory. Apart from being a reference of historical value, it also represents our fond remembrance of one of our prominent predecessors.

     The achievement the Observatory enjoys today is a reflection of the cumulative efforts of many generations of people who served at the Observatory. On behalf of all serving colleagues, I would like to pay our most sincere tribute to all those before us.

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

     Thank you.

Ends/Friday, March 17, 2006
Issued at HKT 16:45