Should Travelers Postpone Trips to Macau?


Not everyone takes typhoons seriously. During Typhoon Utor in 2013, tourists could still be scene braving the storm in Senate Square in the heart of Macau. Photo Credit: FredlyFish4.

While Macau continues its cleanup efforts following a devastating typhoon that left several people dead and numerous others injured, a question on everyone’s mind is this: should travelers planning to visit the enclave postpone their trips?

According  to the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), the water and power supplies have not been fully restored in Macau. As a result, some hotels and guest houses are still suffering from power and water shortages.

With damaged facilities and the obsruction of some roads after the typhoon, frontline workers, volunteers, and the People's Liberation Army are dealing with the situation as best they can.

MGTO is urging visitors to reconsider visiting Macau at this time. MGTO has also suggested that local travel agencies temporarily suspend their tour group arrangements through 30 August while the city recovers.

Is Another Typhoon Headed This Way?

While Macau and neighboring Hong Kong are cleaning up after Typhoon Hato, another typhoon might be headed their way.

According to initial reports, there is a 70% chance that Typhoon Pakhar, as it has been named, will affect Hong Kong and Macau as well as the Zhuhai Special Administrative Zone.

The storm is expected to pass through Luzon in the Philippines early next week and intensify as it enters the northern part of the South China Sea.

But its force is expected to be much weaker than that of Typhoon Hato, which was the strongest typhoon to hit Macau in 53 years.

Typhoon Warnings

Interestingly enough, I’ve been through numerous typhoons in both Hong Kong and Macau, and Hato was not nearly as strong as some of the others I’ve been through in my neck of the woods.

Generally speaking, you are safe as long as you remain indoors. But on one occasion I clearly remember that the winds were so strong that I was worried that windows might be blown out.

Hong Kong is a large territory, and weather conditions can vary greatly from place to place. It really depends on how close you are to the epicenter of the storm.

The warnings issued by the Hong Kong Observatory are based on weather conditions at Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island.

The distance from Victoria Harbour to Sheung Shui, where I live, is roughly 40 kilometres, or 25 miles, and weather conditions can actually be quite different, especially when it comes to typhoons.

On more than one occasion I remember being informed that the Number 10 Signal had been hoisted, but the weather conditions where I live were still relatively calm. The typhoon hadn’t reached the Northern New Territories yet.

By the time the typhoon had reached North District, conditions at Victoria Harbour had already calmed done. So the warning signal was reduced – even though we were experiencing gale force winds and it was not really safe to go outside.

Typhoons vs Hurricanes: What is the Difference?

Many people are confused by the terms typhoon and hurricane, wondering what the difference is.

A typhoon is a severe tropical cyclone that develops in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, which is the most active tropical cyclone basin in the world.

A hurricane is a severe tropical cyclone that develops in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the Northeastern Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines suffers the brunt of landfalls followed by Japan and Southern China.

Typhoons can strike throughout the year, but they are most common in summer and fall. Typhoons usually occur from May through November. The peak months runs from August to October. They are particularly common in September.

The Hong Kong Observatory issues warning signals when a typhoon approaches within 800 kilomerres or 500 miles of the territory and poses a threat of worsening conditions.

  • Typhoon Signal No. 1 – a stand-by signal is issued when a typhoon is centred within 800 kilometres of Hong Kong.
  • Typhoon Signal No. 3 – precautionary steps should be taken as strong winds are expected or are blowing generally in Hong Kong near sea level. Kindergartners are sent home.
  • Typhoon Signal No. 8 – gale or storm force winds are expected or are blowing generally in Hong Kong near sea level.  Schools are closed and non-essential employees are sent home. A two hours’ advance warning is usually issued.
  • Typhoon Signal No. 9 – gale worse winds are increasing or a expected to increase significantly in strength.
  • Typhoon Signal No. 10 – hurricane force winds are expected or are blowing anywhere near level. The Eye of the typhoon may be passing very close to Hong Kong or directly over Hong Kong.

A similar system is maintained by the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau in Macau.

How to Prepare for a Typhoon

  • Evacuate coastal areas.
  • Tie down objects on balconies or rooftops.
  • Stay indoors.
  • Stay away from exposed windows.
  • Listen to the radio.
  • Make sure to have plenty of bottled water and food that doesn't need to be cooked.
  • Make sure to have batteries, candles, and matches in the event of a power outage.

The jury is still out on whether to apply tape to exposed windows. Some recommend this for older buildings in the belief that it will reduce the chance of injury should windows shatter.

Others say that it could make things worse if bits of shard get stuck together.

Effect on Air Traffic

Interestingly enough, when typhoons strike, the decision on whether or not it is safe for airplanes to take off and land is left to airlines and their pilots.

It really depends of the size of the airplane and the skill of the pilot.

False Alarms

Typhoon warning are not an exact science, and most of them are false alarms.

If the Hong Kong Observatory or the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau in Macau issues a warning  and the typhoon gives the territories a miss, – or isn't as serious as expected –  the business community complains about the damage done to the economy.

This is, in fact, what usually happens.

The next time around, government officials are afraid of getting it wrong and suffering criticism – and the public at large becomes jaded and doesn't take the necessary precautions.

Most typhoons can seem like much ado about nothing. But typhoons can be deadly. Typhoon Hato was a wake-call. We ignore them at our peril.

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