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USAGI UPDATE: Historic Hong Kong Typhoons

By: Christopher C. Burt, 9:26 PM GMT on September 21, 2013

UPDATE: Historic Hong Kong Typhoons

UPDATE: Super Typhoon Usagi tracked inland about 100 kilometers east of Hong Kong on Sunday sparing the city from what potentially could have been a devastating blow. The Hong Kong International Airport (on Lantau Island) reported sustained winds of just 43 mph with gusts to 54 mph. The highest winds reported from any low-level site in the city area were reported on Cheung Chau Island where sustained winds of 56 mph with gusts to 76 mph were measured. Once again, the city has dodged a bullet. It has been quite a long time since the city suffered through a truly catastrophic typhoon. Here is a brief review of the worst typhoons to have affected the city.

Typhoon Usagi came ashore near the city of Shanwei in Guangdong Province with winds of 90 mph and a central pressure of 940 mb (27.75") at landfall. At least 25 deaths have been reported so far in Guangdong Province. Fortunately for Hong Kong the storm tracked well north of its originally forecast path.

The actual path of Typhoon Usagi versus what was forecast. The storm center passed about 100 kl northeast of Hong Kong. Maps from South China Morning Post.

In the end the storm was no more than a nuisance to Hong Kong residents, delaying flights, blowing down a few trees, and bringing 25-125 mm (1-5") of rainfall to the city and its environs. Photo by Felix Wong.

Typhoon Utor, last August, was considerably more destructive and deadly than Usagi. Over 80 fatalities were reported in China and several large ships were lost. In the photo above the bulk carrier 'Trans Summer' founders 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Hong Kong during Typhoon Utor. It was a very large vessel, built just last year, and was carrying a load of nickle oar when it capsized in heavy seas August 14th. All 21 on board were rescued by helicopters. South China Morning Post.


Although there are few details, the worst typhoon to strike Hong Kong since its colonization by the British in 1842 was that of 1874. Eyewitness accounts stated “...the town looked as if it had undergone a terrific bombardment. Rows of houses were unroofed…in every direction dead bodies were seen floating about or scattered among the ruins…thirty-five foreign vessels were wrecked or badly injured.”

September 18, 1906

Perhaps the deadliest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in modern records was that of September 18, 1906. Named the ‘Second Hong Kong Typhoon’ (not sure if this is because it was the 2nd typhoon to hit the city that year or it was the 2nd catastrophic storm since European colonization), the storm killed at least 10,000 people and leveled Kowloon. Thirty-three large ships were grounded on the reefs surrounding the harbor and the islands nearby.

An artist’s rendition of the 1906 Hong Kong typhoon that killed at least 10,000 in the colony. Old Siam Trading Company.

September 2, 1937

An equally intense and possibly deadlier typhoon hit the city on September 2, 1937. By this time Hong Kong was a far more substantial entrepot and the 7th busiest harbor in the world. The Hong Kong Observatory (the city’s official weather site) measured 125 mph (200 km/h) sustained winds and gusts to 149 mph (240 km/h) just prior to its anemometer being blown away. The barometric pressure fell to 958 mb (28.30”). More than 11,000 fatalities were reported, mostly Chinese residents living on junks in the harbor. A storm surge of up to 18’ flooded Hong Kong Island as far inland as Des Veoux Rd. on Hong Kong Island and halfway up Nathan Rd. in Kowloon. The Post Office on Connaught Rd. (Hong Kong Island) was swamped.

A corvette grounded on Hong Kong Island following the great typhoon of 1937. With 11,000 deaths, this was probably the worst typhoon in modern Hong Kong history. Photo from merchantnavyofficers.com

Typhoon Mary June 9, 1960

Typhoon Mary mostly affected the western New Territories but a wind gust of 105 knots (121 mph) was measured at the Hong Kong Observatory along with 16.83” (427 mm) of rainfall. Forty-five deaths were blamed on the storm.

Typhoon Wanda September 1, 1962

This was the most devastating typhoon to strike Hong Kong since the storm of 1937. Sustained winds of 78 knots (90 mph) and gusts to 140 knots (161 mph) were measured at the Observatory and a gust to 154 knots (177 mph) was reached at Tate’s Cairn. The eye of the storm passed just 10 miles south of the Observatory in Kowloon. The barometric pressure fell to 953.2 mb, the lowest ever measured at the Hong Kong Observatory. 130 people were killed and 53 missing and presumed dead as a result of the storm. This was the last worst typhoon to strike Hong Kong as of now. Its path is quite similar to Typhoon Usagi’s (so far). At least 130 died with another 53 missing as a result of the storm.

The path of Typhoon Wanda in 1962. It is quite similar to that of Typhoon Usagi. Hong Kong Observatory.

Typhoon Rose August 16-17, 1971

The strongest and deadliest Hong Kong Typhoon since Wanda, Typhoon Rose brought wind gusts of 121 knots (139 mph) to the Hong Kong Observatory. The eye passed over Lantau Island. A peak wind gust of 150 knots (173 mph) was measured on top of Tai Mo Shan, the highest mountain in the New Territories. There were 110 deaths attributed to the storm (and five missing) as well as 286 injuries.

Path of Typhoon Rose in 1971. This detailed map shows where some of the locations I mention in this blog are: Tai Mo Shan, Tate’s Cairn, Lantau Island, Royal Observatory, etc.. Hong Kong Observatory (same as ‘Royal Observatory’).

Nathan Road, the principal commercial artery in Kowloon, following Typhoon Rose in 1971. Photographer not identified.

Typhoon Hope August 2, 1979

Typhoon Hope moved quickly over Hong Kong but brought wind gusts to 130 knots (150 mph) to parts of the territory. The barometric pressure fell to 961.6 mb, the 3rd lowest on record for Hong Kong (after the 1937 storm and Typhoon Wanda). It caused 12 deaths and 260 injuries.

Typhoon Ellen September 9, 1983

Typhoon Ellen resulted in the deaths of 10 (with 12 missing and presumed lost) and caused havoc at sea where 26 ocean-going vessels foundered, resulting in the worst maritime losses (financial damages) in modern records. Sustained winds of 90 knots (106 mph) and gusts to 128 knots (147 mph) were reported on the island of Cheung Chau.

The track of Typhoon Ellen in 1983. The storm churned up the Pearl River Delta near Macao resulting in huge maritime losses. Hong Kong Observatory.

Typhoon York September 17, 1999 and Sam August 24, 1999

York was the most powerful typhoon to impact Hong Kong since 1983. It killed only 2 people (an example of how efficient the typhoon alert system had become in the city by this time). Sustained winds of 151 km/h (94 mph) with gusts to 234 km/h (145 mph) were measured at the city’s Waglan site. In August of 1999 Typhoon Sam brought torrential rains to Hong Kong causing landslides that killed four. In fact, it was the greatest rainfall in Hong Kong history with 616.5 mm (24.27”) measured at the Hong Kong Observatory over a 24-hour period.

Path of Typhoon York. Again, the storm crossed Lantau Island to the west of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Observatory.

Typhoon York blew out many windows in the skyscrapers of the Central District, but caused little loss of life in spite of its strength as a result of an excellent warning system. Hong Kong Observatory.

Since 1999

There have been several strong typhoons to affect Hong Kong such as Typhoon Nuri in August 2008. For a complete list of tropical storms to hit Hong Kong since 1960 look here.

REFERENCE: Much of the information in this blog comes from an outstanding paper titled 'Typhoons Affecting Hong Kong: Case Studies' by S. Campbell, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, April 2005.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Tropical Storms

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Thanks for covering this Mr. Burt! Wife and I were in Hong Kong for TS York. We holed up in a local watering hole in Happy Valley with some other expats and a rugby team from Australia. The wind wasn't so bad as Happy Valley is wind sheltered, but I remember the rain coming down in buckets!
Thanks Christopher!
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