‘Storm surge’ not explained enough – PAGASA official

Buena Bernal
A weather bureau official says more could have been done in explaining to the public the magnitude and gravity of a storm surge

Image courtesy of US NOAA

MANILA, Philippines – As far as the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is concerned, all necessary public warnings were issued before Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) unleashed its wrath Friday, November 8.

Ma. Cecilia Monteverde, assistant weather services chief of PAGASA, however, admitted that more could have been done in explaining to the public the magnitude and gravity of a storm surge.

“We weren’t able to tackle that. It’s more on the signals and in delivering the forecasts and warning distributed to the public. But the storm surge wasn’t explained there,” Monteverde, speaking in Filipino, told Rappler.

The weather forecaster spoke about information dissemination at a press briefing on Thursday, November 14, organized in Quezon City by disaster preparedness advocates.

Areas declared under Typhoon Signal 1 to Signal 4 – with corresponding descriptions on the impact of each typhoon signal – were outlined by PAGASA in its forecast report a day before Yolanda made its first landfall, in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

At the bottom of the forecast – in a footnote-like text – is a warning against possible 7-meter high storm surges in areas declared under signals 4, 3, and 2.

(Read PAGASA’s November 7, 8pm forecast report below.)

In a PAGASA primer, a storm surge is described to have the ability to engulf low-lying coastal communities and bring destruction to natural and man-made structures. Monteverde explained that this destruction causes massive death, if residents stay in coastal areas.

Super Typhoon Yolanda lashed out its fury from Friday to Saturday, washing away homes with storm surges as high as 7 meters and causing deaths in the thousands.

Predicted well

Processes on forecast and prediction were in place, said Monteverde.

“For science and technology agencies, they’re doing good in protocol. In fact, they predicted well,” said Zenaida Delica-Willison of the Center for Disaster Preparedness Philippines, an advocacy group.

As early as November 1, PAGASA spotted a low pressure area in the Caroline Islands which turned into a tropical depression the day after.

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
NOV 1: Spotted as an LPA over the Caroline Group of Islands.
NOV 2: LPA developed into a tropical depression.
NOV 3: Weather scenario given to media through text and phone inquiries.
NOV 5: Initial “Advisory” issued, update incorporated in the 5 pm public weather forecast.
NOV 6: 2nd “Advisory” and PAGASA forecast track disseminated to PAGASA
Source: PAGASA

Two days before mag-landfall ‘yung bagyo, kahit nung outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) pa siya, sinabi namin na ito’y isang napakalakas na bagyo dahil kitang-kita mo ‘yung circulation and very distinct ‘yung eye,” said Monteverde.

(Two days before the typhoon made landfall, even when it was still outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility, we already said it is an extremely strong typhoon because you see its circulation clearly and its eye is very distinct.)

Willison, however, recommended that graphic descriptions of storm surges must be included in the warnings the way typhoon signals are explained.”Although communicated, people did not understand what storm surge means,” she said. (READ: ‘We should have said, expect a tsunami’)

Education campaigns conducted

Monteverde clarified that information and education campaigns (IEC) were regularly conducted with local government units. Terms that PAGASA used in its weather forecasts were explained extensively in these IECs.

But, she said, local government units sometimes sent to their IECs officials or employees who are not directly involved in disaster risk management. 

“We are conducting the IEC in the local government. But after the IEC, participants should transfer the information down to the barangay level because that’s our agreement,” she said.

Topics during the IECs include storm surge, flood, tropical cyclone, among others. 

Community response

While protocol on information dissemination was followed prior and throughout the ordeal, Monteverde said that timely and accurate warnings are useless without a corresponding response-action from local governments and the commnunities.

The PAGASA official said a change in how Filipinos view disaster preparedness is highly called for.

“Filipinos don’t follow unless they experience the disaster…even if we already gave the warning. When it floods, that’s when there’s forced evacuation,” she said in Filipino.

She added that local governments must also conduct regular evacuation drills. 

Willison of the Center for Disaster Preparedness Philippines said vulnerabilities will be reduced once various destructive actions of man are put to a halt.

Among those she mentioned were mining, illegal logging, and even corruption in government.

“It’s a whole gamut of activities…. It’s easier said than done… It takes political will, and it takes leadership,” she said. – Rappler.com

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