Just as people are worrying that winter is slowly disappearing from Hong Kong due to accelerated global warming, our city was hit by the worst cold snap we had ever seen over the past weekend. Temperatures in urban areas plunged to as low as 3.1 degrees Celsius during the day time, the coldest in 59 years.
Like me, many of our fellow citizens were caught completely off guard by this sudden plunge in temperatures.
On Sunday, when temperature hit record low, more than 500 frost-chasing citizens and nearly a hundred ultra-marathon race contestants were stranded on the top of Tai Mo Shan and Kowloon Peak, many of whom suffered from mild hypothermia.
To make things worse, the icy roads leading to the top of the hills were highly slippery, making it very difficult for fire trucks and ambulances to come to their rescue.
In fact, the monster-class cold snap that gripped our city and led to hundreds of injuries was a wake-up call, showing how vulnerable and ill-equipped our city is in the face of extreme weather conditions.
Extreme weather is connected to global warming, experts have pointed out. And as global warming worsens, Hong Kong is expected to witness more such instances in the days ahead.
Our city must get prepared as soon as possible.
Earlier, the Environmental Bureau has issued a report on climate change, in which it vows the government will enhance our city’s capacity for responding to extreme weather conditions, and describes in detail various contingency plans devised by different government departments.
However, what happened over the weekend suggests that our government departments were both ill-prepared and ill-equipped for such acute weather conditions, an urgent issue that must be addressed promptly.
For example, the Hong Kong Observatory had obviously underestimated the severity of this cold snap and failed to issue cold weather warnings in time to alert our citizens.
On the other hand, one of the main reasons why our firemen themselves were also stranded on icy roads and failed to come to the immediate rescue of those trapped on the mountains is because our firefighters simply didn’t have the right equipment to cope with icy and slippery roads.
It is reported that the entire Fire Department has only 56 pairs of mountaineer snowshoes in its inventory, not to mention that none of our fire trucks and ambulances have anti-slip tire chains for icy road conditions.
Worse still, the “Super Puma” rescue helicopter of the Government Aviation Service had to abandon its missions after sunset for safety’s sake due to its frozen rotor blades and body, indicating that even our state-of-the-art and highly expensive helicopters are not airworthy under below-zero temperatures.
All these indicate our government departments and frontline rescuers are far less prepared and equipped for extremely cold weather conditions than they have claimed.
As instances like this are likely to happen more and more frequently in the future, it is important for our government to learn the lesson of the chaos over the weekend and act accordingly in order to get our city more prepared for extreme weather and cold temperatures.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 27.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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