Hope and assurance in PAGASA
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2014 - 12:00am

Typhoon Ruby came and went bringing material damage and some casualties. But this time the negative effects were much less than Typhoon Yolanda and even less than what the public was expecting since the typhoon – Ruby or Hagupit--had been labelled as a super typhoon.

For most observers reviewing the post typhoon effects and the government response, there was a mixture of relief and pride. The relief was due to the fact that damages and casualties were much less than had been expected. In fact, international news channels like CNN and BBC had sent news teams and were giving hourly updates at one time. For example, CNN had news teams in Tacloban and Legazpi. The world seemed to be expecting another huge disaster.

But CNN’s broadcaster Jim Clancy later said that, in terms of government preparedness, it was a “success story.” The UNICEF Country Director also said in a BBC interview that there were two things that went right: “...the government evacuation was done right; and they (government) got their logistics right.”

Listening to the different officials being interviewed, one of the most curious observations was the mixture of understanding and frustration at the reluctance of some people who refused to evacuate their homes located in hazardous areas. One local government official explained that these were people who understandably did not want to leave their farm animals because of the possibility of these animals being lost or stolen.

When asked what his plans were regarding these reluctant people, he said that he had sent the police to go to their homes and, if necessary, handcuff them and force them to go to the evacuation center. He explained that in the past he had left them alone if they refused to evacuate. The result was that he was later blamed for their deaths. This time, he said that he would make sure that there would be zero casualties even if this meant he would have them forcibly taken to evacuation centers.

While Typhoon Ruby was certainly a natural calamity that we hope and pray will never happen again, there was one positive story that should give all Filipinos a measure of pride. The Philippine Weather Bureau or PAG-ASA has definitely proven that it is a world class weather forecasting organization.

Days before the Philippine landfall of Typhoon Ruby, major Philippine and international news organizations like CNN and BBC were using weather forecasts to keep track of the typhoon path from three organizations.

These three entities were the Joint Weather System, used by the United States military; the Japan Meteorological Agency; and, the Philippine Weather Bureau or PAGASA. While all three agencies showed the typhoon crossing the Philippines, there were slightly divergent paths. The Joint Weather System was more to the north of the path forecasted by PAGASA and showing it would hit Metro Manila. The Japan Meteorological Agency showed a path more to the south of the PAGASA forecasted path.

As the typhoon began to cross the Philippines, all three weather forecasts started to converge. In the end, it was the typhoon path originally forecasted by PAGASA that proved to be correct. Its most important forecast was that the first landfall would be in the area north of Borongan, Eastern Samar, somewhere around the area of the town of Dolores. This prediction proved to be “right on the nose.”

It was very fortunate that all the government plans and pre-positioning of supplies and equipment were based on the PAGASA forecast. This was invaluable in mitigating the potential disastrous effects of Typhoon Ruby.

In a recent interview, Esperanza Cayanan, OIC, PAGASA Weather Bureau explained the reasons that her group proved to be more accurate. First, under the P-Noy administration, the weather bureau has finally received the state of the art equipment it requires to do its job properly. Secondly, their staff has been able to take much more technical training under the assistance of international organizations to upgrade their skills.

Then she added another intriguing reason. She explained that all weather groups have a weather forecasting model which has, at its core, mathematical equations. However, Cayanan said that aside from a forecasting model, PAGASA personnel also do a lot of ground observations. They then add the results of their forecasting model to what she called “subjective judgment” and their historical records on climatology.  But no one can quarrel with the result— a weather forecast that proved to be more accurate than the American and Japanese weather forecasts.

It may not sound glamorous, but PROJECT NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) is proving to be one of the most innovative projects in the Philippine preparation for natural calamities. Operating as the research and development arm in weather and climate studies — especially its hazardous effects — is the mandate of this group. Its most ambitious project is to draw geo-hazard maps to the barangay level. In the event of typhoons and other natural disasters, the geohazard maps will show the areas prone to floods, storm surges and landslides. It will also show the areas that will be safe from these hazards. It will show people exactly what locations to avoid and what areas are safe as evacuation centers in the event of typhoons and floods. When completed, this projected will literally save thousands of lives.

The government deserves to be congratulated for the “culture of preparedness it is trying to instill in our disaster prone country. I also want to congratulate the PAGASA for proving that the Philippines has a world class weather forecasting bureau.

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Where The Write Things Are winds up its 2014 Young Writers’ Hangouts at the Canadian American School Alphaland City Club, Makati on Sat, Dec. 13 with the 1-2:30 p.m. session with Neni SR Cruz, which will be all about Christmas writing and crafting.  In Our Own Words, an anthology of the year’s notable pieces by 27 young authors will be launched after the class, with the cover featuring the artwork of Jonathan G. Ranola III and book design by SF-based Tina G. Besa.  For registration contact 0917-6240196 /writethingsph@gmail.com

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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