Live Blogging Wipha

[11:25 PM] Earlier this evening I attended a sold-out show of “42nd Street” at the Majestic Theater in downtown. At 6:45, the theater was empty; by curtain, at 7:30, it was packed but for a few empty seats, here and there. The crowd was 95% local Chinese, and I think it’s best to trust the locals in these matters.

In other words: no typhoon.

When I started live-blogging this event last night, I really had no intention of becoming a clearinghouse for information on what never amounted to much more than a drizzle. But such is the course of the web. Signing off with a parting radar image:

wipha_truly_final.jpg

[5:06 PM] It may not be over, after all. A friend just received a storm-related text message from China Telecom on her phone. A brief , impromptu translated excerpt:

“A friendly reminder: the storm is coming. Beware of the weather. Don’t go out. Be careful of windows, doors, and objects falling from high buildings. Switch off power and be careful of electric shocks. Beware of street flooding.”

That’s interesting, I told her. To which she replied, with some contempt: “You can’t actually believe that.”

New radar image.

wipha_final2.jpg

Question: do I use my tickets for the 7:00 PM performance of 42nd Street, or not?

[4:55 PM] At this point, I am down to live blogging about a particularly rainy day with a funny name. None of this would have been possible, of course, if Shanghai hadn’t shut down for a typhoon with a funny name and opened up my schedule. A weird day. Regardless, it’s been obvious since noon that the typhoon isn’t coming to Shanghai. A friend, who just emailed, refers to it as “typhooie” and asks when “we can call it the Big Nothing?” I think it might be time. Below, the latest radar image.

wipha_final.jpg

Throughout the day, I’ve received numerous emails (and a few comments posted to this live blog) indicating that I am not the only foreigner feeling disappointed at being denied what promised to be a spectacular show. Let me be clear: I don’t mean to minimize the suffering and inconvenience that this storm (we mostly have yet to learn) has caused in Fujian and elsewhere. But, as I noted earlier, the word ‘typhoon’ (which, I’ve confirmed, is the same thing as a hurricane) puts even the long-term expat into an exotic state of mind. It can’t be helped.

A couple of final notes before shutting down this ongoing post. First, a special apology to the drunk Australian who I encountered on Hengshan Road around 11:00 last night. At the time, the air was still and heavy, the streets were empty, and only a drunk could be excused for thinking that the storm of the decade was not about to arrive. Or so I thought. This gentleman, whose name I never got, told me something along the lines of: “I lived in Taiwan for three years, and ever storm was the storm of the decade or the century. And it never was.” I’m sure I looked at him, as he told me this, with a mixture of contempt and pity for this poor soul who – I thought – might get stuck outside in the impending storm. Now we know: he was right, I was wrong.

Finally, a note to the comically large number of Midwesterners who emailed to say that my ‘coverage’ of the typhooie reminded them of the Midwesterner’s peculiar obsession with extreme weather events – and love of wall-to-wall weather coverage. In their honor, I want to announce that the monthly Minnesota Club of Shanghai monthly social has not been canceled.

[2:10 PM] Could that slamming door be the Fabled Winds of Wipha whipping down the hallway of my apartment building? Indeed, there are rain drops on my windows, and the trees are starting to shake. According to a news report that I read earlier today – and which I didn’t note – the storm was expected to arrive around 2 this afternoon. But, as noted in earlier dispatches, it looks like the eye of the storm will pass a good 100 km west of Shanghai.

According to a recently posted Bloomberg report (found via shanghaiist):

The eye is expected to pass within 100 kilometers of downtown Shanghai, Zhang Zhenyu, the head of Shanghai’s natural disaster department, said by telephone today. “The storm won’t have as big an impact as was earlier thought,” he said.

[topic for another day: why are the best and most up-to-the-minute reports about the storm coming from Bloomberg and the Guardian’s sports page?]

The latest radar image suggests that – as reported earlier – Nanjing is going to receive the full force of the storm (what’s left of it). And not Shanghai.

wipha_two.jpg

I was downstairs, at the Lawson’s, roughly 30 minutes ago, and I was suddenly struck by the total absence of children on the streets of Shanghai. According to all of the local news reports, Shanghai’s schools were canceled today. But then, where are the kids? Is it really possible that all of them are indoors? Is that what explains the slow internet connection that I’ve dealt with for most of the day?

In either case, I am aware that I am now live-blogging what amounts to a thunderstorm with a Thai name. This will not last much longer.

[12:17 PM] The Guardian is reporting that Wipha has been downgraded to a Category 1 typhoon (is this the same as a Category 1 hurricane?; I’m guessing so), and “would weaken further into a tropical storm as it headed north towards Nanjing.” Heads north to Nanjing? If that’s the case, then, it sounds to me like Shanghai is going to miss most of it.

Interesting to note that the Guardian is running this story in its “Football – Breaking News” section. Sports-crazed Brits, obviously still focused on the Women’s World Cup games and cancellations. On a personal note, I skipped the US-Nigeria game at Hongkou Stadium last night – assuming that it would be canceled in observance of Wipha. Instead, it was played in the rain.

[12:03 PM] Still no typhoon in Shanghai. I just took a long walk around my mostly dry neighborhood and found myself pleasantly surprised by the hot dry wind that was blowing down the street. However, after reaching my 7th floor apartment, was startled to hear the windows rattling, and when I opened one of them, that hot wind became a gust. The trees are starting to shake.

Other observations from the streets below: there’s no traffic, and very few people. The convenience stores are open, and even the venerable L Cafe (where I bought a coffee), but – again – where are all of the people?

I’ve had several emails from people inquiring as to where I’m getting the radar images that I’ve posted to my blog. They come from the nifty Hurricane Zone site, which collects them from other sources. Below is the latest. Though I’m no meteorologist, it looks to me like this storm is moving further inland, and remaining south of Shanghai. It also seems to be shrinking (in relative terms). Nevertheless, Hurricane Zone and other sites project the storm’s path through Shanghai, still.

wipha_noon.jpg

But what’s good for Shanghai is not necessarily what’s good for Zhejiang. And, from the beginning, it is Zhejiang that was expected to take the hardest hit. So far, I can’t find any news reports on the situation down there, and I’m once again struck by how different coverage of this storm is from, say, the average US hurricane where every movement of the storm is carefully tracked on CNN and the Weather Channel.

[8:35 AM] Let me join thousands of Shanghainese in (subtle) disappointment at the fact that it is currently cloudy and dry in Shanghai. Traffic is humming down below, and even the Chinese are openly doubting whether this thing is going to hit. As the #1 Alarmist – at least in this corner of the French Concession – I’m standing by the storm, even though it’s running a bit behind. Apparently, it went aground in Zhejiang at 1:00 AM, and it’s scheduled to hit Shanghai around 2:00 PM.

See new radar image and batten down the hatches:

wipha2.jpg

A skeptical Chinese friend just told me: “In China, nothing is true. Nothing except the date.” We’ll see.

[1:05 AM] Well, one big difference between a monster storm in China and one in the United States is the total lack of wall-to-wall coverage of the storm – in China. I’ve been flipping stations, and I can’t get a single radar or satellite image of the storm. Where is it? In the US, it’d be 24 hours. Perhaps that’s the reason so many of the foreigners seem unwilling to believe that the storm will really be what it so clearly will be. For the disbelievers out there:

wipha.jpg

Oy.

And with that, I am going to bed fully expecting to be awakened by gusts of wind against my windows.

[12:30 AM] No storm yet, but – as Micah Sittig observes – more blog entries. CCTV has a crawl across the bottom of the television announcing that schools will be closed tomorrow. Awfully humid at the moment.

[11:33 PM] I couldn’t help myself, and returned: those few drinkers left in Hengshan Road’s bars were reluctant to leave. But, after some typhoon celebratory shots, leave they did. The street is now empty, except for some lost looking taxi drivers, waiting for fares that don’t look likely to show up.

In other news: I’m a bit surprised at the lack of interest in this storm from China blogs. If this is as big as the Chinese seem to think, you’d expect to see some coverage. Anyway, at this point, I’d give the best blog coverage award to Jim Fallows who, as usual, distills the salient points.

[ 10:20 PM] I hate to use the phrase, but we are definitely in the ‘calm before the storm.’ I just spent 30 minutes walking around the totally calm and empty streets of my neighborhood, in the center of Shanghai’s French Concession. Everything is closed – everything except some of the bars along Hengshan Road, and a convenience store. And the only people in those venues – other than the Chinese waitresses and managers – are roughly 20 total foreigners (out of, say, ten bars) who seem to be in total denial about what is about to hit the city.

I came across a six-man poker game in one of the bars, and stopped to chat with one of the players, an Australian gentleman. He told me that the storm was over-rated – “just look at this calm weather. It’s going to miss us totally.” A Dutch fellow echoed this opinion – just as he folded.

But they’ll be fine. Apparently, the police are stopping by all of the local businesses and ordering them to close by 11:00 PM. At least for the Chinese staff of the local bars and convenience stores (yes, even Lawson is closing), 11:00 can’t come quick enough.

I received a message on my mobile phone, roughly an hour ago, informing me of the expected severity of the storm based upon how far inland a person is located. I don’t really understand these rankings, but a friend told me that – all things considered – inland rankings of 8-10 are bad, very bad. The seaside rankings are 9-11. This storm goes to 11.

[8:40 PM] I may live to regret my decision to do this, but so long as power and internet access holds out, I’ll be posting regular updates on life in the heart of Typhoon Wipha through the evening and tomorrow. A brief observation: at least to foreign ears (or those that were born and bred in the American Midwest), ‘typhoon’ sounds quaint, exotic and mostly harmless. That is, of course, total folly. According to my brief scan of the newswires, this storm is now classified as a “Super Typhoon” which, according to another online source, is equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. Hurricane Katrina, if I recall correctly, was a Category 3.

At the moment, the rain is steady – mostly as it’s been all day. There are brief interludes of dry, but those don’t last long. As I learned the hard way around 2:00 this afternoon: they end suddenly.

Word has been out for most of the day that the storm is coming. Xinhua is reporting that 200,000 people have been evacuated, mostly from old and rickety structures in harm’s way. I assume the relocations applied mostly to people close to the water. Where did these people go? What is the Shanghai equivalent of the New Orleans Superdome? I’d love to know.

Now that I think of it: where did Shanghai go? I was at my downtown gym from 6:00 to 7:30 this evening – usually peak, crowded hours – and it was almost empty. In the midst of my workout the staff announced that the facility would be closed tomorrow as a result of the typhoon.

But the real surprise was the subway. 7:30 PM is still rush hour for much of Shanghai’s subway system and the cars should be packed and uncomfortable. Instead, the platforms were weirdly quiet and empty, and when the train arrived, there were plenty of empty seats. Aside from Chinese New Year, the only other time that I can remember a similarly light rush hour was in 2003, during SARS.

How did everyone get home so quickly?

Anyway, the storm should be hitting just after midnight, Shanghai time. If I can, I’ll post details.

[Addendum] I’m noticing that network speeds have really slowed down this evening. I’m guessing everybody is at home, online. This, too, may inhibit my ability to live blog. We’ll see.]

15 comments

  1. I appreciate your candor. We woke up wondering if the storm had passed, looked out at the calm below our 12th floor, a little disappointment, puzzled that news sources said 2 million evacuated. Accuweather again promises Wipha will arrive -through a G search found Fallow’s page and then yours. Wow. That’s quite an infrared image you found there.

  2. so funny… the only outwardly visible sign something is a miss at our office near hongmei lu is they’re contemplating cancelling the five-a-side match tonight, and thats just maybe.

  3. The full force of the storm was supposed to hit us last night here in Hangzhou, and all we got was a bit of rain. I even walked home in it. Worst typhoon ever.

  4. 18:26 on wednesday 19th…I am in Suzhou, not far west of Shanghai and it was bucketing down yesterday afternoon and evening and there was an eye kind of incident earlier today when the wind stopped its noisy action then seemed to change direction… right now it is still windy in gusts but getting better and still very very wet…

  5. Hi Adam,
    The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has been paying lots of attention to your weather situation, but that may have something to do with the fate of our women in the FIFA competition. The regular correspondent (Anthony Germaine) might not even be in Shanghai, because they are relying on reports from the BBC. I was curious so I Googled “shanghai typhoon” and was quite thrilled to find your Blog leading the way. Maybe you should create a new subtitle: “All the news that’s fit for Scrap”. Please toast a Margarita for me at Cotton’s, mid typhoon, I’m wishing I was there.

  6. Actually you can find weather radar images, infrared images and satellite images from many Chinese websites including national/ provincial meteorological centres websites, however, most of them in Chinese only.

    From Guangdong Meteorological Centre:
    Typhoon path image (fyi, super typhoon Krosa is coming, Category 4)
    http://www.grmc.gov.cn/tqsk/tflj.asp
    Infrared image
    http://www.grmc.gov.cn/tqsk/yuntu_ei.asp

    From Shanghai Meteorological Centre ?this one in English)
    Satellite map, radar echo, etc
    http://www.smb.gov.cn/PortalQXJ/english/Weatherlive.aspx

    National website
    http://www.cma.gov.cn/tqyb/nephogram.html

    Enjoy.

  7. Shan – Thank you VERY much. Great links, quite helpful. I’ll post these during the next Shanghai weather event (hopefully, not soon!).

  8. You are very welcome. Here is one more very good website – Zhejiang provincial Typhone Path real-time reporting system. You can even find historical data/chart back to 1945.

    For Shanghai, typhone season is basically over. Very little chance any more typhone will hit Shanghai this year.

    http://slt.zj.gov.cn/typhoneweb/

    Finally, I would like you to know China has its own comprehensive radar, satellite and Internet systems for weather forcasting and reporting, which is under fast development. There’re tons of up-to-date info over there better than Bloomberg and the Guardian’s sports page.

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