The study sought to identify factors involved in the emergence, prevention and elimination of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong during 11 March to 22 May 2003. A structured multiphase regression analysis was used to estimate the potential effects of weather, time and interaction effect of hospital infection. In days with a lower air temperature during the epidemic, the risk of increased daily incidence of SARS was 18·18-fold (95% confidence interval 5·6–58·8) higher than in days with a higher temperature. The total daily new cases might naturally decrease by an average of 2·8 patients for every 10 days during the epidemic. The multiplicative effect of infected hospital staff with patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) and the proportion of SARS patients in ICUs might respectively increase the risk of a larger SARS epidemic in the community. The provision of protective gear in hospitals was also a very important factor for the prevention of SARS infection. SARS transmission appeared to be dependent on seasonal temperature changes and the multiplicative effect of hospital infection. SARS also appeared to retreat naturally over time.