Tropical Cyclone Pabuk

Last Thursday (9th August) there was a bit of a buzz about the office, and a lot of people changing online statuses making mention of a possible incoming Tropical Cyclone by the name of Pabuk. Naming of cyclones over here following similar international standards. I knew beforehand that Hong Kong has a weather warning/scaling system, and that if the black rain warning were given then you had to stay indoors, preferably at home. I now know there is a similar system for tropical storms and cyclones. From mid-morning onwards the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) was giving fairly frequent updates on the progress of Pabuk. Initially sighted at 500km away, moving on a general westerly course towards Hong Kong, wind speeds of 120 km/h etc. It was being scheduled to hit us in the evening at a possible scale of 8. Strangely it seems the tropical cyclone scale goes from 1-3, then up to 8, then onto 10. Apparently when it hits 8 you’re sent home, and if it hits 10 things can be pretty unpleasant and frightening. Looking out the windows of the office didn’t provide much evidence. In fact the only sign something was up was that Hong Kong harbour’s air quality must have been nearly the worst I’d seen. More experienced heads told me this was because of the wind direction and the incoming cyclone.

During the rest of the morning the reports from HKO showed the cyclone getting closer: 450km, 410km, 370km. Wind speeds remained the same and you could see the swirling clouds on the satellite images on their website. [If you’re suitably interested you can keep up with my current and predicted weather here]

By about 3:00pm the distance had dropped to 300km, but I had noticed that the incremental distances had been dropping, where is was previously approaching at 50km/h it was now only really getting about 35km/h closer. Still the weather outside didn’t look too appealing, as it was looking pretty smoggy and cloudy. All of a sudden at 4pm the warning was dropped, and we were back down to a T1. Pabuk had had a change of mind, swung north and dropped in speed. I received an Instant Message shortly later from a friend who works in Sha Tin, in the New Territories (ie. further to the north) that it had all gone very dark there – despite the (now) T1 warning. Sure enough, within 30 minutes Central was getting very dark, and it was almost pitch black by about 4:30pm. Assuming, somehow, the Observatory had got it wrong and we were in for a big storm I was a little concerned. The odd flash of lightning out the window not helping. As quickly as it had darkened the atmosphere lightened again, although the air was still looking very heavy with smog and clouds. As expected, the poor air quality is blamed on the Chinese factories and the change in wind direction.

After a lot of excitement and build up, the cyclone never arrived and was downgraded to a tropical storm. A very uneventful finish to the day. It did rain pretty heavily that night (and I got soaked playing hockey as a result), but that’s not exactly a worrying storm in my book. There must have been some wind though, as a rather large section of tree had come off one of the trees at the end of the street I live on.

So, after the excitement anti-climax of Thursday when I got to the office on Friday it seemed Pabuk had passed us by, but that another tropical storm (Wutip I think) could come close to Hong Kong. The HKO website didn’t show much of interest, preferring to report the last gusts of Pabuk… or so I thought. Just proving once again that you can’t really predict weather, Pabuk had another change of mind picked up a bit of speed and decided on a direction change. By midday we were back at T3 with a strong possibility of a T8 later in the day. I was at Causeway Bay today and, again, looking out the window didn’t see much into worry about. A bit of light rain was all. As a group we decided to take lunch together – I managed to pass on the chickens feet this time. In fact, maybe the novelty of seeing what I might baulk at is wearing off, as I don’t recall anything particularly nasty turning up. I did have a few bits and pieces of the fish that turned up. I have no idea what kind of fish they were… a pinkish colour and a yellow colour, sliced open, heads and tails still on if that helps.

Just about finished lunch by 2:00pm and one of the guys gets a text to say a pre-T8 warning has been given, which means it will be a T8 in two hours, and that we’re going home. Again, nothing out of the ordinary as I look out the window, and I’m not sure if people are being serious. If they are, no-one is hurrying out of the office, so of course I don’t want to be the first to leave and look silly. Within about 15 minutes or so, one person does leave and other people are beginning to pack up – so off home it is. MTR a little busier than normal, and theres a bit of rain and some light gusts of wind as I go home. I’m still not sure what the fuss is.

I’m back home by 3:00pm, curtain open so I can see when the rain starts and maybe here the howling gales I’m expecting. 4:00pm still nothing, and we’re now officially at T8. Check a few forums and the like. It appears the MTR is rammed getting out of Central, the ferries have stopped, phones aren’t working. Basically, not quite panic, but the communications and transport system is collapsing under the strain of everyone trying to get home and contact loved ones. Still no wind though. Stanley is listed as a good place to storm watch, but more intriguingly Stormies in Lan Kwai Fong allegedly offer free beer for the duration of a T8 warning. Well, wouldn’t do any harm to check it out I reckon. Agree to meet a few others there (assuming Lan Kwai Fong is open of course – it occurs to me if business closes during a T8, surely pubs/bars do too).

Yep – LKF pretty much business as usual. Stormies packed. No free beer. Ah well – still a good night out. Everyone in LKF seemed to be enjoying themselves more than usual (even saw some guys playing pub golf: Europe vs America, front nine in LKF, back nine in Wan Chai. Europe were 2up at that stage). Maybe a light breeze every so often but no rain until later in the night when I couldn’t find a taxi and someone had nicked my umbrella… typical really. But a fun night out nonetheless.

A few observations from the storm that wasn’t. It seems that it only needs to trigger a T8 at one point in the territory and the whole territory gets the signal. Due to a failure to raise a T8 once (a T3 was raised) and there 100+km/h winds ripping the place up. The oncoming wind seemed to produce loads of (large) dragonflies from god knows where. Quite unpleasant. Once again, I’ve written a lot more text than I originally thought or planned to.
The cynical might say that shutting down business – and as a result the stock exchange – when world markets are in turmoil due to the US sub-prime mortgage worries was (temporarily at least) quite helpful.

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One Response to “Tropical Cyclone Pabuk”

  1. johniebg Says:

    It is incredible how the whole place goes into a panic, I presumed a hangover of imperialism. Lets face it a gust of snow and your almost guaranteed to spend the night gridlocked on a motorway.

    I liked the way this unfolded.

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