Yesterday Hong Kong was battered by hail stones the size of golf balls and intense “black rain” in a storm that might serve as tangible proof of the effects of global warming. “Black rain” is a weather warning term used by the Hong Kong Observatory to describe rain that falls at over seven centimeters per hour. This is the earliest point in the year that they have ever issued the severe weather warning signal for black rain, since it was first launched in 1992.
The unexpected nature of the storm has led to many speculating that it is connected with the problem of climate change. Global warming is a hot topic in the news at the moment and although there is overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of the environmental phenomenon, many still dispute either its existence or the extent of the changes it is inflicting on the planet. Although natural disasters are part of the Earth’s weather patterns in recent history there does seem to have been an increase in the frequency of such events.
The unexpected force of the storm led to rain pouring into shopping centers, especially in the Kowloon Tong district, with numerous videos capturing footage of lighting and bits of roof falling through the malls. Either due to some die hard shopping habits or because of how quickly the storm progressed, many local Hong Kongers were still in the stores when the water began to build up. In some places the water levels rose to waist height with people half-swimming, half-wading home. The subways were also overwhelmed with water as it ran down the escalators and stairs into the underground and covered the entire station. There were also numerous lightning forks with over 3,000 happening within the space of an hour, and over 8,000 occurring in total, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. All forms of transport were impacted with planes, trains, buses and cars stranded or delayed as the streets filled with water. The rain first began to fall in earnest during the final match of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens Tournament, with the New Zealand team performing their shirtless haka amid sheets of water which later turned to huge hailstones, some bigger than a fist.
Hong Kong is subject to extreme weather as part of its normal climate however the monsoon season is generally between May and September, with January to March being generally dry and cool. Although April does tend to see an increase in rainfall, this type of storm is a highly unusual case for this time of year, particularly given the strength and force it displayed and the damage it caused.
Given the current furor over the climate change debate, this incident seems to be more than just a random one-off to be put down to coincidence. In 2008 both Hong Kong University and CSR Asia reported that the country was likely to experience more extreme weather more often, as a direct result of global warming, in the near future. This recent storm certainly seems to ratify these predictions with alarming accuracy. Unfortunately due to the sea altitude, high density population and skyline filled with skyscrapers, Hong Kong already stands at greater risk from flooding, heat waves, typhoons and increased rainfall. As such the country is likely to be one of the main victims of any changes which global warming inflicts on the planet, and this freak storm with black rain and hail is just the first proof what awaits them in the future.
There is a large quantity of evidence to show how changes in the environment have impacted on the Asian nation. The Hong Kong observatory has recorded a steady increase in the average temperature, as well as a greater fluctuation in temperatures. While most people viewing these statistics find it difficult not to indict climate change in the cause of such environmental upset, some local customs provide alternative explanations. A feng shui expert in the country suggested that weather like that which Hong Kong has just witnessed can be caused by a feeling of discontent within the population and a sign that their needs are going unmet – food for thought for the government and observatory..
The incredible weather was documented by many but the video below is a montage of the main forms of damage the storm caused. The rather dramatic soundtrack seems rather fitting given the unexpectedly destructive nature of the freak storm, which saw Hong Kong engulfed in giant hail stones and black rain, as well as suggesting how this proof of global warming should be considered in a suitably serious manner.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion