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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1937- Great Hong Kong Typhoon

During the last few days of August 1937, a typhoon developed east of the island of Luzon in the western Pacific Ocean. It moved in a west-northwest direction at the rate of about 32 km/h (20 mph), reaching Hong Kong very early in the morning of 2 September. The typhoon passed 8 km (5 mi) to the south of the island before it made landfall on mainland China. As the typhoon passed, winds of up to 240 km/h (149 mph) were recorded in Hong Kong. Heavy rain fell, reaching 5.46 cm (2.15 in) per hour.

At the time, Hong Kong harbor was the seventh busiest port in the world. During the height of the typhoon the sea level in the harbor rose about 1.8 m (6 ft) above the predicted level of high tide. Many ships in the harbor (and those at sea) were destroyed. At least 18 ocean liners and other large vessels—including Italy's 18,765 ton Conte Verde, Japan's 16,975 ton Asama Maru—were ripped from their moorings and slammed ashore. Other sailboats (known as “junks”), fishing boats and houseboats sank in the harbor or lay splintered along the shore. Had it not been for the narrowness of Lyemoon Pass, the eastern entrance to Hong Kong Harbor, the surge could have been far worse, causing significantly more damage to the waterfront.

The most severe impact from the typhoon was a 9.1 m (30 ft) tidal wave that was pushed through the narrow Tolo Channel, located in the northeast area of Hong Kong. It swamped the low-lying villages of Taipo and Shatin, causing great damage and loss of life.

The Great Hong Kong Typhoon of 1937 was one of the worst typhoons in Hong Kong history killing more than 11,000 people. This was about 1% of the total population of Hong Kong at the time.

Fast Facts:

  • The typhoon’s winds were so strong that instruments at the Hong Kong Observatory, capable of registering winds up to 201 km/h (125 mph), broke down.


“Foreign News: Hong Kong Typhoon” TIME, Monday, September 1937. Web.

The Hong Kong Naturalist, March 1938. The information used comes from a summary of tropical activity in the Pacific Ocean, under “Notes and Comments.” The section used begins with the header “The Typhoon of September 1st to 2nd.”

Great Hong Kong Typhoon of 1937. Wikipedia. 2009.