The Hong Kong Observatory has upgraded the highest estimated wind speed of Super Typhoon Mangkhut to the highest level on the Beaufort Scale – meaning it currently has hurricane force winds.

hong kong storm typhoon
A woman uses an umbrella as she walks along a promenade that runs along Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on September 13, 2018. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

The government held a rare cross-department press conference on Friday afternoon over the super typhoon.

The Observatory initially estimated that the highest offshore wind speed could be at level 11, but upgraded it to level 12 on Friday, meaning that the speed could exceed 118 kilometres per hour.

“It is quite likely for storm signal no. 8 to be issued [on Sunday],” said Cheng Cho-ming, assistant director of the Observatory. “As for whether there will be a higher warning signal… it depends on the strength and path of Mangkhut after it passes Luzon.”

Cheng added that it was difficult to estimate how long the T8 signal will last. Public services are suspended as long as the signal is hoisted.

Mangkhut is expected to be closest to Hong Kong on Sunday at daytime. Its strength will decrease when it is further away from Hong Kong on Monday, but it will depend on the rate at which it slows.

“Regardless, the wind will be very strong. The public should take preventive measures as soon as possible,” Cheng said.

mangkhut forecast
Photo: HKO.

The strength of Mangkhut may change when it moves across Luzon into South China Sea, but it will maintain the strength of a super typhoon after entering the South China Sea.

The Observatory said Mangkhut is expected to skirt south of Hong Kong. It urged members of the public to stay away from the shoreline and not to engage in water sports.

‘Prepare for the worst’

At special press conference on Friday, Secretary for Security John Lee said that more personnel and equipment will be on standby for Mangkhut compared to last year’s Signal No.10 storm Hato.

mangkhut joint press conference
Joint press conference on Friday. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Each department must have crisis awareness, conduct a full assessment, and prepare and plan for the worst,” Lee said.

Deputy Director of Home Affairs Vega Wong said that evacuation efforts were already underway for low-lying and flood-prone areas such as Tai O, Lei Yue Mun and some outlying islands. In a first, the Home Affairs Department arranged coach buses to take Tai O residents to nearby shelters.

Additional reporting: Holmes Chan.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.