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Hong Kong's Tropical Cyclone Warning Signals

During the typhoon season (May to November), tropical cyclones are not unusual in Hong Kong. They rarely hit directly but they can be potentially dangerous even if they only skirt the city. Fortunately, the modern, tall, concrete and steel skyscrapers protect most people from the worst effects of a storm, meaning you can usually go about your business and hardly notice anything is going on.

However, a direct hit is a different matter and can potentially do real damage, or even kill. Those on outlying islands or other exposed areas are obviously at greater risk. With this in mind, Hong Kong has long had a warning system in place for it's citizens. A series of icons was developed to indicate the severity of an approaching typhoon. During a cyclone alert, the warnings are displayed on all television channels, broadcast on all radio stations and prominent buildings will also have displays. You should watch them closely when an alert is in progress and act accordingly.

The signs are as follows:


Standby (戒備) - This is the lowest level alert and just means that a typhoon has been spotted. It will likely be days before it poses any risk. It is only meant to indicate the potential of it arriving in Hong Kong.


Strong winds (強風) - Now things are hotting up and winds of at least 110km are either expected, or currently blowing at sea level and are expected to persist. Life goes on as normal, although there is the possibility of cancelled or delayed flight at the airport. T3 alerts are quite common. Avoiding coastal areas is a good idea.


Gale or storm force winds (烈風或暴風) - Now things are getting serious. There are four variants of this level, indicating the direction of the wind. When a T8 warning is issued, Hong Kong immediately begins to shut down. Such warnings are not issued lightly as it can cost the economy a lot of money. All schools, work, public transport, everything will close straight away. High winds of at least 180km will be blasting through the harbour. The airport will be diverting most, if not all flights. At this stage, you really should be at home glued to your TV, hoping it doesn't progress to the next stages.


Increasing gale or storm force winds (烈風或暴風風力增強) - This warning is issued when winds are continuing to strengthen. You should not attempt to travel. Wherever you are, get indoors and stay there until the storm has subsided.


Typhoon (颶風) - This is a major event and usually results in large scale damage and deaths. Direct hits are rare but they do happen. During a T10, there will be a stage where the eye of the storm passes right over the city. This will mean a brief respite of a few minutes to a few hours, after which the violent winds will return from another direction. This is the stuff of disaster films and many people will have to tape up their windows to reduce the risk of flying glass.