The damp squib that was Typhoon Linfa passed by Hong Kong last night barely stirring the trees, despite a T8 warning, scores of disrupted flights and cancelled classes.

The first T8 of the year was raised for just six hours before being replaced by a T3, as the storm rapidly lost strength as it blew westwards over Guangdong.

typhoon linfa
Dark clouds hover over Hong Kong Thursday afternoon before T8 storm signal was raised. Photo: Hong Kong Observatory

By the time many of the the city’s workers had arrived home the storm had already been downgraded from ‘typhoon’ to ‘severe tropical storm’ status.

Forecasters had earlier in the day predicted the typhoon would score a direct hit on Hong Kong, leading to a major contingency plan.

Classes were cancelled, flights were diverted and workers were sent home early, leading to major queues at bus stops and a scramble to get on the last ferries of the day.

Last night the government released a statement entitled ‘Facts about Typhoon Linfa’ (see statement in full below) which explained how the threat of the typhoon was assessed and why the T8 signal was raised.

The statement said an aircraft had been flown into the eye of the storm yesterday morning and hurricane force winds had been recorded. But it went on to say that gale-force winds were only later recorded occasionally on Hong Kong’s high ground, and that forecasting the intensity changes of tropical cyclones was difficult.

typhoon linfa
Rush hour comes early as commuters wait for MTR. Photo: Local Press via Facebook

But by 10pm the signal had been replaced with a T3, leading many to ask what all the fuss was about. This morning the storm had all but vanished, with forecasters classifying its remnants as an “area of low pressure”.

The Observatory this morning came in for a fiercer battering than Hong Kong, as many wondered why the T8 signal had been raised for what was little more than a breezy day.

On Facebook Stanley Lam commented that the Observatory had “neglected it’s duty”, while Pakky Pak Kei Cheung said it “excels at hindsight”.

But others defended the Observatory’s caution. Alen Chow said: “I think there’s absolutely no need for HKO to explain anything… the weather can change so unpredictably, HKO tries their best to remind citizens to make precautions. What is there to explain?”

Hong Kong Observatory said this morning: “The rainbands associated with the remnant of Linfa are affecting the coastal areas of Guangdong. Locally, more than 20 millimetres of rainfall were generally recorded over the territory this morning, and rainfall over Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island and Cheung Chau even exceeded 40 millimetres.”

Legislator Charles Mok said he was grateful to Linfa after he went home early from work to watch Despicable Me Minions. “Thanks to Linfa, I can have a rest after opening fire with 689 (Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s nickname),” he said on Twitter.

typhoon linfa
Linfa causes trouble in Lufeng, Guangdong. Photo: 我是陈小魔 via Weibo

This morning’s forecast is for squally showers and occasionally strong winds on high ground.

Elsewhere in the Pacific Super Typhoon Chan-hom was threatening to cause chaos. The Observatory said the storm was was “centred about 230 kilometres west-southwest of Okinawa. It is forecast to move northwest or west-northwest at about 20 kilometres per hour across the vicinity of the Ryukyu Islands.”

Government statement: Facts about Typhoon Linfa

Linfa intensified into a Typhoon at 6am yesterday. In a collaboration between HKO and the Government Flying Service, a fixed-wing aircraft undertook meteorological observations in the vicinity of the eye of Linfa. According to the aircraft data obtained, hurricane force winds (118 kilometres per hour or above) were recorded near the eye of Linfa between 7am and 9am, and gale force winds also extended to about 100 kilometres (Figure 1).  At that time, Linfa was expected to move west or west-southwest, coming very close to Hong Kong in the evening and posing a threat to Hong Kong.  Just before Linfa make landfall near Lufeng, Guangdong Province, its eye structure remained intact (Figure 2).  Based on the available meteorological data at that time and out of prime concern for public safety, HKO issued the Pre-No.8 Announcement at 2.40pm yesterday, and then the No.8 Northwest Gale or Storm Signal at 4.40pm the same day.

Winds strengthened generally over Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, with strong winds recorded over many places.  Linfa subsequently moved slightly further inland and weakened rapidly over Guangdong.  Although Shenzhen, which is just north of Hong Kong, recorded gale force winds in the afternoon, and occasional gales were also recorded on high ground locally, the circulation and area of gales associated with Linfa became significantly smaller.  The general occurrence of gale force winds just missed the Hong Kong territory.  When the threat of gales had vanished, HKO replaced the No. 8 signal by the Strong Wind Signal, No. 3 at 10.10pm yesterday.

Limited by the state-of-the-art of science, forecasting the intensity change of tropical cyclones remains a challenge for the meteorological community.  HKO will endeavor to continuously improve its forecasting techniques.

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.