weather talk

Weather forecasters caught in the eye of a storm

MANILA, Philippines—A storm threatens to wallop the Philippines but a huge computer that dominates the forecasting room of the nation’s weather service is on screensaver mode showing a cartoon pattern of unexploded bombs.

While Typhoon “Pepeng” (international name: Parma) ominously hovers near the main island of Luzon, the computer has no data to receive as the main weather radar on a hilltop in Baguio City is out of action—again.

This scenario played out on Tuesday when Agence France Presse visited the forecasters in Manila to examine why they failed to predict the ferocity of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) that killed nearly 300 people in and around the capital on Sept. 26.

“Our old radar has limitations,” said Fredolina Baldonado, a meteorologist at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

“It has a blind spot to the south and that includes Metropolitan Manila,” Baldonado added.

And this I think is an excellent commentary on the problems the Metro and elsewhere experienced during and after Ondoy.

The Ipo Dam started spilling water as early as 1:20 a.m. Saturday, and Angat and La Mesa Dams (different watersheds but connected by aqueducts) would follow. Was there no communication between them and with agencies/LGUs downstream? With so many agencies (PDDC, OCD, MWSS, Pagasa, Napocor, LGUs, Mayor’s Office, NDCC, MMDA, etc.), why did residents receive no evacuation order? Was the MM5 weather model predicting hundreds of mm of rain, even the night before? As for people paying more attention to soap operas than bulletins, what bulletins would they have heard?

The weather bulletin of 11 a.m. Saturday the 26th said: “This disturbance is expected to enhance the southwest monsoon and bring rains over central and southern Luzon and Visayas. Residents living in low-lying areas and near mountain slopes in areas affected by the Southwest Monsoon and those under signals no. 1 and no. 2 are alerted against possible flash floods and landslides … The public and the disaster coordinating councils concerned are advised to take appropriate actions and watch for the next bulletin to be issued at 5 p.m. today.”

What, in that message, suggests anything unusual, and what are “appropriate actions”? Filipinos are by now so used to these standard warnings. Working back, one asks, why keep water in the dams so high, far above the “upper rule curve” (for example, Angat was almost 25 meters above) heading into typhoon season?

And oh, Typhoon Pepeng (international name: Parma) hits northern Philippines a third time. A THIRD TIME! He keeps coming back! Like a shopper who can’t make up his mind! (Do I want this pair of socks No I still have enough socks No wait I really need a new pair of socks Let me take a look again)

Damn weather.

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