The Story section

Ever-changing Weather

‘When I joined the Observatory, the radar images were only just beginning to be shown in colour. Previously, there had only been black and white images, which made it difficult for us to interpret the strength of rainfall in localized areas. At that time, the satellite radar image was an A3-sized facsimile paper, and it had to be dried before we could start analysing it.’ Mr Shun Chi-ming, Director of the Hong Kong Observatory, smiled at his recollection. ‘It seems unimaginable today, but that was cutting-edge technology just over three decades ago.’

Mr Shun Chi-ming, Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO), has been with the Observatory for 32 years and is its youngest ethnic Chinese Director

Regardless of what technology, instruments or weather prediction models are used, the Observatory is moving with the times in order to provide more precise and robust weather forecasts than in the past. Allowing the public to understand and grasp the complicated scientific data, however, is another field of expertise. These days, most people prefer ‘infotainment’1. If a single, unexciting format is used to release weather information, the audience might not be interested. ‘We studied science and know little about journalism and communication,’ Mr Shun explained. ‘Therefore, we need to think of ways to connect better with the public.’

Dealing with an ever-changing environment keeping up to date and remaining open to new ideas are the keystones of future development. The mobile application ‘My Observatory’ was not very successful when it was first introduced by the Observatory. But after it changed in response to users’ feedback and comments, providing personalized weather services, it has now been downloaded over 7.3 million times,2 and is now ranked the fifth most popular mobile app in Hong Kong by monthly active users.3 Apart from providing a mobile application and a digital service, the Observatory has also set up a Facebook Page this year (2018). ‘Our team has made a great effort to obtain views from citizens and younger colleagues and to improve news sensitivity. The public feedback has been quite good.’ The Director adds, ‘We are now developing a “Chatbot”4. We believe it can be widely used in weather service.’

Advanced technology and equipment make it relatively easy to analyse atmospheric data. But the weather does not respect geographic boundaries. In order to predict the mid-term and long-term weather conditions of a particular area, meteorologists must analyse a larger range of data, perhaps even on a global scale. ‘Over a century ago, meteorologists around the world realized the importance of data sharing. They established an international standard for weather measurements. They arranged for each country to make independent observations at stipulated times, and for this information to be shared with their colleagues.’ ‘This was a model of international cooperation,’ Mr Shun enthused. ‘If the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)5 had not existed, we would not have been able to recognize the reality of climate change. This kind of cooperation benefits everybody and helps to keep us all safe.’

As abnormal and extreme weather events now happen more frequently, international cooperation and communication have become even more important. The advance of science also relies on such opportunities and endeavours. The Observatory, as a member of the WMO, continues to pursue research and develop new services, including the ‘Nowcasting’ system6 which helps pilots to fly more safely. Before aircraft take off, pilots check their documentation and radar data on likely weather conditions during the journey, to see whether there is a possibility of turbulence or bad weather. As wireless networks on aircraft have become increasingly common, the Observatory has successfully uploaded useful weather data on a mobile application, so that aircrew can conveniently access real-time information and react swiftly to threatening weather change.

With the development of information technology, staff of the Observatory no longer have to hoist physical typhoon signals

A measure of international agreement has been reached on mitigating climate change. The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, assigned different responsibilities to different countries as fairly as it could. The HKSAR Government has assumed certain responsibilities aimed at protecting the global environment. To assist it, the Observatory will provide it with scientific information. Data in relation to climate change, including sea level rises, the impact of typhoons and storm surges, is submitted to government departments to help them to determine appropriate policies. ‘Although science is not always certain,’ the Director warned, we need a scientific basis of support for what we do, or we are just wasting our breath. ‘We should make the best decision we can now, based on the best science we have, and make adjustments later on if the situation calls for them. We have to prepare for the occurrence of extreme conditions, and take the necessary actions to adapt to climate change immediately.’

Governments and organizations across the world have implemented policies to mitigate climate change based on scientific research, such as building resilient and sustainable cities, promoting the development and usage on reliable and sustainable clean energy sources. These policies are in line with achieve Goals 7, 11, 13 and 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. However, while these policies provide an indispensable framework, success also requires individuals everywhere to take action by changing their lifestyles. ‘Climate Action’ has a significant role in the UN’s 17 SDGs. We should not allow climate change to reverse the gains made in sustainable development in the past decades. We must work together and educate our future generations to meet the long-term challenges of climate change, and to popularize a culture of sustainable development throughout the community.

Mr Shun shares his enjoyment of work at the Observatory with CUHK’s MoCC Ambassadors

Near the end of the interview, the reporter asked Mr Shun, as the youngest Chinese Director of the Observatory when he took office in 2011, what advice he would give young people interested in pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)7? Mr Shun modestly replied that he was not sure. But he encouraged students to control their own future and to be loyal to their own enthusiams when selecting which subjects to study. It was possible that, before long, repetitive tasks would be handed over to robots. That would give human beings the opportunity to cultivate their own interests, pursue new technology, and work at the forefront of developing and mastering artificial intelligence.

The ‘Paris Agreement’ is an ambitious multilateral agreement that calls for global action to control the rise of the global average temperature. Based on the pre-industrial global average temperature, it aims to hold the warming range below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.



‘Infotainment’ refers to the combination of news or information with entertainment in order to attract audiences.


Data as of October 2018.


Source of information: Annual survey ‘Digital in 2018’ announcement by social media service company “We Are Social”


‘Chatbot’ is a chatting robot which utilizes artificial intelligence to simulate human conversations. It can connect to other websites or mobile applications.


The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a specialized agency under the United Nations. It promotes international meteorological and hydrological observation and research. In October 2018 it was awarded the ‘Welfare Betterment Prize - LUI Che Woo Prize’ in recognition of its contribution to reducing the impacts of natural hazards on human society.


‘Nowcasting’ predicts weather changes during the subsequent few hours, mainly focusing on severe weather such as high winds, heavy rainfall, lightning, hail and thunderstorms.


Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are four categories commonly used in the context of education policy and curriculum development aimed at enhancing Hong Kong’s technological competitiveness.

The UN SDGs mentioned in this article include:

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 13: Climate Action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

JC-CUHK Climate Action The Chinese University of Hong Kong logo Museum of Climate Change The Hong Kong Jockey Club logo