Sunday, August 24, 2008

Typhoon Nuri

The kids had a short first week of school. One day off for orientation and then another day off for a typhoon. After three days of school, all classes in Hong Kong were cancelled last Friday due to Typhoon Nuri. Typhoon Nuri was forecasted to directly hit Hong Kong Friday, sometime in the late afternoon. Starting on Thursday, the winds began to blow and that anticipatory pre-storm quiet surrounded us. Luckily, Hong Kong was not directly hit. In it’s final approach, Typhoon Nuri swung north, missing the island by about 10 kilometers.

Typhoons, based on the Chinese word tai feng, are cyclones that form over the Pacific, while such storms over the Atlantic are called hurricanes. Here in Hong Kong, the typhoon season is essentially May through November, with August and September being particular peak times. I remember a typhoon coming through right after we moved here in early August 2006. We were a little too jet lagged to notice much but I do remember feeling bad for all the returning to Hong Kong families who were diverted to Tokyo to wait out the storm. Since then we have had a few typhoons come close but never close enough to close school.

To prepare the shipping and fishing industries, as well as the general population, Hong Kong has an elaborate Tropical Cyclone Warning System. Currently, warnings are posted if a cyclone is within 800 kilometers of Hong Kong. Details concerning the storm’s latest position, expected movement, wind strength and sea levels are all given. The warning system goes back to 1884, when the authorities shot off a typhoon gun to warn the local population of the storm. In 1907, a typhoon bomb replaced the gun, with obvious improvements in sound. The last typhoon bomb was detonated in 1937 when radio and other postings prevailed.

The current warnings were devised in 1931 and rate the tropical cyclones from 1 to10, in increasing severity. Typically, a Typhoon 1 signal is hoisted, followed by a Typhoon 3. (Warnings 2,3,4,5,6, and 7 all indicate strong winds and further indicate which direction the wind is blowing from). At Typhoon 8, all schools and businesses are shut down. Typhoon 8 means that storm winds are sustained at 63-117/ kilometers per hour. In 1987, the government started issued a pre- Typhoon 8 warning, allowing schools and others notice prior to closures. Thus, when we went to bed on Thursday night, we knew school was likely to be cancelled the following day. Typhoon Nuri reached a Typhoon 9 warning, but not Typhoon 10, with sustained winds of 118 kilometers per hour and gusts up to 220 kilometers.

As we walked around our apartment complex, we saw all the men who work here as doormen and guards wearing hard hats. We saw police cars drive by with grates on the windows, presumably to protect them from falling objects. We saw a lounge chair from our pool go flying over the building and fall on the other side of the road. At that point, we quickly moved inside but not first without noticing the insect life. Dragon flies were swarming everywhere and other oddities, like foot long bright green stick bugs, seemed to be out in greater numbers. While Tori loved the insects, Adam kept asking me where all the birds were during the typhoon. It seemed like a related mystery but an unresolved one at this point. Despite the fun of a day off, we do need school to be back in session after all.


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