Climate Change and Hong Kong: Thoughts over a cold weekend

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m cold. It’s cold in Hong Kong. It’s not quite like the weather I experienced in New York over the new year holiday, when the mercury dipped to a bone-chilling -17 degrees Celsius, but I’m cold nonetheless.

The combination of wind and living in towers made of concrete, steel, and little else, makes 8 degrees all the more difficult to keep warm in. As you would imagine, having heating isn’t really a thing in Southeast Asia.

Responding to the arctic air’s invasion of the Northeastern U.S., President Trump offered a tweet, saying “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming…” and in doing so, he highlights the confusion – and attempts to wield it – that many seem to have about climate change, global warming and weather.

Global warming is certainly felt in Hong Kong, where last year in 2017, eight different high-temperature records were broken. The mean daily max temperature has been on the rise since the Hong Kong Observatory began recording data in 1884, and the number of “Very Hot” days – when the daily maximum temperature is 33 degrees Celsius or above – has dramatically increased over the past two decades.

As one would expect, this means that Hong Kong’s winters have been losing ground to the heat, as our cold weather begins later and ends sooner. However, even as I write, the Cold Weather Warning has been in force by the Observatory for close to a week now, and cold weather shelters are open.

A list of cold weather shelter locations is provided by the Home Affairs Department.

On Saturday evening, and again on Sunday, a Frost Warning was issued for the New Territories, which brings back memories of the ‘frost tourists’ fiasco of two winters ago, where people needed to be rescued off of Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest peak.

It has been warned that with climate change comes greater extremes, and the warnings certainly appear warranted. The extreme heat is expected in the subtropics, but freezing weather in Hong Kong, not so much.

In 2016, twelve weather records were broken, including the highest consecutive number of hot days, and the most amount of rainfall recorded in autumn. Hong Kong also had the coldest day in nearly 60 years, including the aforementioned frost event

Now looking back to 2017, we see the year boasts the record number of hot nights, as 41 nights were above 28 degrees celsius. It also gave us 9 tropical cyclones, one of them being Typhoon Hato, which is one of only 15 storms to gain signal No.10 since 1946 by the Observatory. It caused landslides, floods, flight cancelations, and injured more than 129 in Hong Kong, while also killing 10 in Macau.

Check out this video from 2015, and keep in mind what 2016 and last year were like…

The weather is becoming more volatile as a result of climate change, and we may see more extreme days of both cold and heat in Hong Kong. Sure, looking at the Observatory’s records of temperatures shows a decline in the total number of cold days. But could this lull us into being less prepared for future cold snaps in Hong Kong?

As of now, the Cold Weather Warning has been in effect for a week and the past two nights have seen Frost Warnings.

What records will be broken by 2020, or 2030? Will temperatures continue to break heat records? Will rainfall records fall as well, and days of heavy rain continue to increase? How much more will the sea level rise? Will a hard freeze come to Hong Kong one winter?

Until then, I’ve got on a couple of layers and my little space heater is working overtime. Keep warm on those cold and windy streets, fellow Kongers.

Writer: Justin

Copy editor: Amanda

Editor: Skylar

Online: Evelyn

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