Gale geek

Gale geek

Ho Man Tin student loves weather so much, he started a typhoon information website for young people

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John Ho Yu-ki saved up to buy his own wind-speed device.
John Ho Yu-ki saved up to buy his own wind-speed device.
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
More than 10,000 times a year, people who want to know about typhoons get their information from John Ho Yu-ki.

John's not a former officer at the Hong Kong Observatory, or studying weather and climate at university. He's a Form Five student at Wa Ying College in Ho Man Tin, and admits he's a weather fanatic. Using resources available on- and offline, he set up his own website - Hong Kong Typhoon Information at www.hktpi.tk - in 2010.

His knowledge doesn't come from physics or geography classes, but from self-study, especially studying information that experienced typhoon trackers online have shared with him.

Whenever a typhoon comes close enough to Hong Kong to force the Observatory to hoist a signal, people start pleading online for a signal No 8, which means time off from school or work.

But John is critical of these people who make hopeful, yet illogical and unscientific guesses at the typhoon's track. His site features close-to-professional analysis, and is so popular among young climate fans, that dozens have joined his Facebook group to talk more about weather.

The 17-year-old has to keep his costs down, so to gain publicity, he joined an alliance with other weather sites, and found other ways to save money.

"My website address ... ends with .tk instead of .hk because I wanted to save on the registration and annual subscription fee for the web address," says John. "I put my page onto a free-of-charge server, but the web address was way too long. So, I registered a free-of-charge address, and it redirects people who key in the short, catchy address to my page with the original address."

But a short web address alone won't attract visitors. John first registered for permission from the Observatory to repost the information available there, including the radar and typhoon track charts.

That way, he says, "I can do my personal analysis more accurately and respect the copyright of the Observatory at the same time."

There were obstacles at first. "I had included rainstorm forecasts, but precipitation can come and go at any time, and I can't use my phone to go online and update the page during lessons. So, I decided to focus on typhoons alone," John says.

Even though he can't afford to buy hi-tech equipment such as radar or a large-scale wind speed meter, John says advancements in technology have already helped the amateur weather analyst a lot.

"I heard that in the past, typhoon trackers listened to RTHK broadcasts every hour and jotted down the latitude and longitude of each typhoon's location. Then they marked the position on the map in the public phone book [Yellow Pages] ... and made their forecasts," says John. "Nowadays, we are really lucky to have so many types of software to do the plotting online. That saves a lot of effort."

Before typhoon season began last year, John used his pocket money to finally buy his first wind-speed instrument, called an anemometer. "It's imported from the United States, and it cost around HK$600. I thought about it for some time before I placed the order, as it's not a cheap toy," he says.

The first time he used his new device was when Severe Typhoon Vicente hit Hong Kong in July. "I went downstairs when the No9 signal [winds increasing] was hoisted that night, and the wind was so strong that I couldn't stay too long on the street. I recorded some video with my iPod, and took some photos and then went straight home to upload them to the website," says John.

Although the season has already started this year, no cyclones have formed yet. But John is ready when they do. He says he's happy with what he's learned as he builds his website.

"I learned a lot about climate and weather, and some of this knowledge is available only at university level," he says. "I have no plans to expand my site in near future, since I will take the HKDSE exams next year, but I will carry on with what I'm doing - providing a platform for young typhoon fans."

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