Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Hot, bothered and sodden? Relax, it’s absolutely normal

Posted by Kimberly on June 1, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
June 1, 2007, page 7 (1,039 words)

Macau’s recent combination of stifling heat and sudden downpours has everyone all hot and bothered. But surprisingly, according to Antonio Viseu, subdirector of the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau, this is considered normal. “Here it is very easy to have 50 mm in just two hours.” He explains further saying, “It’s the surface of one square metre receiving one litre of water. That’s the meaning of 1 mm. That means that in less than one hour Macau gets in one square metre about 10 to 20 litres of water. Very usual. Last year was below normal.”
Figures show that precipitation levels that year were 153.6mm below average, or 1997.8mm for the year. This year it is predicted that normal levels of precipitation, or approximately 2,133.4mm, will fall. It seems astounding when you consider that countries such as Australia are lucky to receive any rain during their so-called rainy season. But this is Macau.
This normalcy extends to the typhoons. With the typhoon season usually lasting between May and November, “the rains bring the tropical cyclones to this area so when we forecast the normal number we are thinking we’ll have 5-6 tropical cyclones affecting us starting in June to November,” says Mr Viseu. He warns that one or two will come very close to Macau and will cause the Bureau to hoist the number 8 signal. When prompted to explain, Mr Viseu says that “the number 8 signal indicates that the centre of a tropical cyclone is nearing and winds recorded in Macau may possibly range from 63-117km/h with gusts reaching about 180km/h. So you cannot stand outside. When you hoist the signal number 8, it”s better that every person doesn’t have anything special outside. Every danger is outside.”
Naturally that would make one concerned about the possible repercussions of a greater signal number, with typhoon signals going up to 9 and 10. Not so. According to Mr Viseu, “higher than that [a number 8 signal] is not really a problem because up to number 8 is very dangerous. So 9 or 10 is just to show the people that the tropical cyclone is getting closer. Usually the tropical cyclone goes over Macau. But this will depend on the strength of the tropical cyclone.”
For those not familiar with the gradings of tropical cyclones, they range from tropical depression, with wind speeds up to 62km/h to typhoon, where the wind speeds can exceed 118km/h. As Mr Viseu says, “up to now in this area we’ve had two tropical cyclones already. The first one was called Kong-rey. The second one was called Yutu. And the third one to appear will be called Torajo.” Names are provided by members of the typhoon committee that include Macau, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Malaysia among others.
What the number 8 signal means for locals is known by every local. The Bureau has developed a very sophisticated means of ensuring every resident is aware when a tropical cyclone warning signal is hoisted. “If you are a subscriber of the present three mobile phone providers [CTM, Hutchinson and Smartone], you can have all this information when you take a subscription. It is already inside the system,” says Mr Viseu. He goes on to explain that all three providers were invited to discuss the necessity of an effective warning system for residents, with the service starting in 2000. All the information is free. “In Macau the mobile phone penetration is almost 120%. That means that every person has a mobile phone. Some guys have three or four! Some may not have the weather forecast. but every provider will provide the warning service to their customers,” says Mr Viseu.
Florence Leong Ka Cheng, Chief of the Aeronautical Meteorological Centre adds that “There are two types of service. Both are free but some people don’t want to have the information daily, two or three times. So we have one in the morning and one at the end of the afternoon.” She adds that when a warning is sent, “we send it immediately to the three companies and they will despatch at once to every customer.”
The Bureau also provides information to mobile web browsers who wish to access more detailed information. “They can get almost all the information that we provide to the public,” says Ms Leong Ka Cheng.
The last time a number 8 signal was used was in 2003, when there happened to be two. As Mr Viseu says, “usually the typhoon season in Macau starts at the end of May up to November, so usually the more frequent months are between July and September. The signal is highest. So usually when there’s a number 8 signal, it’s between these three months.”
Up until the creation of the Sai Van bridge, Macau residents had to make use of the country’s two other bridges to traverse between the peninsula and Taipa. Neither bridge could be used at all when a number 8 signal was hoisted. When the new bridge opened in 2005, it was a year that had no need for it, with not a single number 8 signal being hoisted. But this has the potential to cause problems. As Mr Viseu explains, “when you hoist a signal number 8, every commerce, everything, will stop. So the people like to go home as soon as possible. And that’s the problem. About 1-2 hours after you hoist the signal, everybody will go to the new bridge because that’s the only one that will stay open. Traffic jam!”
It is clear that residents need to learn how to manage their time because there is approximately 1.5 hours after the Bureau hoists the number 8 signal, that the bridges will stay open. This gives residents enough time to move between the bridges. After this time has passed, they can still use the Sai Van bridge to travel between Macau and Taipa. “So you don’t need to hurry to reach the Sai Van bridge. You have time. The problem is how they react or plan to use the time, “ says Mr Viseu. With Mr Viseu giving prior warning of a possible two number 8 signals occurring this typhoon season, residents are advised to start practising their escape routes.

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