Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The meaning of storm signals

In the face of successive tropical cyclones or typhoons that brought massive damages to the country and to Olongapo City as well, Mayor James “Bong” Gordon, Jr. has tasked concerned departments to re-inform Olongapeños about the meanings of storm signals so that appropriate disaster preparedness can be done to prevent accidents.

“The Philippines has the highest number of tropical typhoons in the world with an average of 20 typhoons entering the country every year, so we must always prepare for the worst situations,” said Mayor James “Bong” Gordon, Jr.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or PAG-ASA, Public Storm Signal No. 1 is put into effect when a maximum wind speed of not more than 60 kph is expected to affect a certain place in at lest 36 hours. In this situation, impact of winds may cause twigs and branches of small trees to be broken, some banana plants may be tiled or downed and some houses of very light materials like nipa and cogon may be partially unroofed. Classes in pre-school level in all public and private schools in affected communities will automatically be suspended.

On the other hand, Public Storm Signal No. 2 is announced when the maximum wind speed is greater than 60kph but not more than 100 kph is expected to affect a certain place in at least 24 hours. In this situation some coconut trees may be tilted or broken, few big trees may be uprooted, large number of nipa and cogon houses may be partially or totally unroofed, some old galvanized iron roofing may be peeled off and in general, the winds may bring light to moderate damages to the communities affected. With storm signal no. 2, classes in pre-school, elementary and high school levels in all public and private schools in affected areas are automatically suspended .

Public Storm Signal No. 3 is announced when a maximum wind speed of more than 100 kph up to 185 kph is expected to affect a certain place in at least 12 to 18 hours. In this situation, nipa houses may be unroofed or destroyed and there may be considerable damages to structures of light to medium construction. There may be widespread disruption of electrical power and communication services and in general, moderate to heavy damage may be expected, practically in agricultural and industrial sectors. With public storm signal no. 3, people are advised not to travel especially by sea or air transportation and people should also seek shelter in strong buildings, evacuate low-lying areas and stay-away from seacoasts or river banks. Classes in all levels are automatically suspended in affected communities.

Public Storm Signal no. 4 is declared when very strong winds of more than 185 kph is expected to affect a certain area in at least 12 hours. In this situation, many large trees may be uprooted and most residential and buildings of mixed construction may be severely damaged, electrical power disruption and communication services will be disrupted and in general, massive damages may be expected to communities affected.
The Olongapo City Government has renewed its efforts in raising public awareness on the possible adverse effects of typhoons by explaining the meaning of storm warning signals. (Photo/ Caption Courtesy of PAO)

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PAGASA in a storm of controversy
Peoples Journal

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

While tropical storm Parma (‘‘Pepeng’’) ominously hovers near Luzon, the computer has no data to receive as the main weather radar on a hilltop in Baguio is out of action — again.

This scenario played out Tuesday when AFP visited the forecasters in Manila to examine why they failed to predict the ferocity of tropical storm Ketsana which killed nearly 300 people in and around the capital on September 26.

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

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

This, she said, explained why the forecasters were unable to warn the residents of Manila before 42 centimeters (17 inches) — the heaviest deluge in more than four decades — was dumped on the nation’s capital.

Asked why the radar was not working on Tuesday as Filipinos looked to PAGASA for guidance on tropical storm Parma, senior weather forecaster Rene Paciente gave a matter-of-fact explanation about the radar breakdown in Baguio.

A landslide had disturbed the alignment of its antenna, and as a result could not transmit data to the forecaster’s headquarters, Paciente said.

The weather service has a limited network of radar stations to track an average of 19 typhoons that approach the country each year, with nine or 10 of those storms making landfall to claim a combined tally of hundreds of lives.

While weather forecasters around the world are often subject to derision for getting their predictions wrong, PAGASA is a particularly vulnerable target with critics using the events of recent weeks to strengthen their arguments.

However, PAGASA operations chief Nathaniel Cruz insisted he was in charge of a “24/7” system, manned at any one time by up to four forecasters.

They were supported by as many as three cartographers who plotted the weather systems on graphs, up to two weather satellite experts and two meteorological telecommunications men, he said.

Cruz also rejected one common assertion that PAGASA was not getting the government funding needed to perform properly.

“It is incorrect to say PAGASA has been left begging for funds,” Cruz said, adding the government had given the weather service P4 billion for equipment upgrades over the past five years.

Cruz urged people to focus on a plan to buy five modern Doppler radars worth $100,000 each that would dramatically improve PAGASA’S forecasting abilities.

The radars would give the country warnings six hours ahead of typhoons, and would be able to predict the intensity of rain expected to fall within an area as small as two square kilometers.

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This writer understands the perennial "funding problem" of most government agencies, like PAGASA not being able to acquire expensive equipment to make their capability at par with international forecasters. But my question is.... are they not allowed to use data from reliable international forecasters like NASA's Measuring Mission satellite (TRMM), a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA?

They were able to predict the flooding... if only that forecast was widely disseminated, I believe there would have been less casualty and hearth aches could have been prevented.

This blogger were able to warn our constituents of the impending flooding by simply using data readily available on-line... please see

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