Humane factor of warning
The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issued tropical cyclone warning, commonly known as Signal No 8, on Wednesday early morning as Typhoon Utor brushed by Hong Kong on its way toward the western coast of Guangdong. The signal stayed up for 12 hours until it was replaced by Signal No 3 shortly before 2 pm on Wednesday. The change meant people had to return to work because existing labor law requires employees to go to work when Signal No 8 is lowered before 2 pm on a workday. This time many salary earners were unhappy because they had to rush back to work, but only for about two or three hours when it was time to go home again.
To be perfectly honest, HKO did nothing wrong by following standard protocol on weather warning announcements based on scientific analysis of latest data and in accordance with existing law. It had forecasted well before the signal change that it could replace Signal No 8 with Signal No 3 at around 2 pm. And bus companies all resumed normal service before the signal change, at around 1 pm. These arrangements allowed people to go to work on time and, as a result, not many cases of serious crowding during the “abrupt” rush hour were reported. For these forecasts alone the HKO deserves a nod of approval if not a medal.
As science and technology continue to advance weather forecasts are becoming more accurate, though Mother Nature’s mood swings remain as unpredictable as ever if not more so, making it very hard for the HKO to remain accurate at all time. Members of the public should appreciate the hard work of meteorologists at the HKO and understand weather forecasting is still a long way from becoming a precise science. That said, some people did have a hard time catching buses in order to be back at work on time on Wednesday afternoon and only to call it a day an hour or two later. Naturally they were upset about the short notice and resulting waste of time and bus fare.
This kind of complaint reminds the HKO its forecasts can be more flexible sometimes by looking at the timing from a more humane perspective, but only when public safety is reasonably assured. This is an excerpted translation of a Wen Wei Po editorial published on Aug 15.