PAGASA: La Niña underway, more rain ahead

The Philippines' state weather bureau announced on Friday, October 2, the onset of the La Niña phenomenon.

"Recent oceanic and atmospheric indicators signify La Niña is present in the tropical Pacific," the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said in a statement.

PAGASA explained that sea surface temperature in the central and equatorial Pacific has been cooling since June. It then reached La Niña threshold in September.

"Based on the latest forecast, weak to moderate La Niña is likely to persist until the 1st quarter of 2021," added the state weather bureau.

While the ongoing La Niña is described as weak to moderate – not full-blown – it could still have serious impact on the country.

What happens during La Niña?

PAGASA warned that La Niña would cause more rain than usual.

"Above normal rainfall" is expected in most areas of the country during the last quarter of 2020 and early months of 2021.

The rain could trigger floods and landslides, especially in the eastern parts of the Philippines "which normally receive greater amount of rainfall at this time of the year."

"Ang La Niña sa Pilipinas ay nagdadala ng maraming ulan at may mga kaakibat na mga panganib (La Niña in the Philippines brings plenty of rain, with accompanying hazards)," said Renato Solidum Jr, undersecretary for science and technology services and disaster risk reduction of the Department of Science and Technology, in an online press briefing.

Solidum noted that the deadly Guinsaugon landslide in Saint Bernard, Southern Leyte, happened during La Niña in February 2006. The landslide, triggered by days of heavy rain and an earthquake, left more than 1,100 people dead.

The western parts of the Philippines should not be complacent as well.

"No two La Niñas are alike. Based po sa historical record, meron pong mga La Niña year na kung saan, kahit weak to moderate La Niña, 'yung mga areas po na normally ay dry dito sa western section ng Luzon – nung 2006 po...binaha din po," said Ana Liza Solis, chief of PAGASA's Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section.

(No two La Niñas are alike. Based on historical records, we had La Niña years where, even if La Niña had been weak to moderate, areas which were normally dry in the western section of Luzon – in 2006, they were also flooded.)

PAGASA also said 5 to 8 tropical cyclones are likely to enter or develop in the Philippine Area of Responsibility from October 2020 to March 2021.

Most of these tropical cyclones are seen to make landfall, which would pose hazards, especially as the Philippines continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.

On the upside, dams badly needing water, like the Angat Dam in Bulacan, are likely to get filled in the coming months.

"Kapag panahon ng La Niña, ito'y kasagutan sa pagkawala ng tubig sa mga dams na importante sa ating pang-araw-araw na buhay, pero ito'y mapanalanta kung hindi natin ito mapaghandaan ng mabuti," said Solidum.

(La Niña is a solution to the decreasing water levels in dams, which are important for our day-to-day needs, but it could be destructive if we don't prepare for it well.)

What should Filipinos do?

PAGASA advised government officials and the public to prepare ahead of the heavy rain and tropical cyclones, taking into consideration the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.

For instance, aside from identifying evacuation centers, officials also need to ensure that there would be adequate space for physical distancing.

"Dapat kayang ma-maintain 'yung requirements natin sa pag-prevent ng spread ng COVID," said PAGASA Weather Services Chief Esperanza Cayanan.

(We should be able to maintain our requirements for preventing the spread of COVID-19.)

PAGASA Administrator Vicente Malano suggested that unused facilities, like churches, schools, or hotels, be used as additional evacuation centers.

"'Yung disaster risk reduction ay hindi trabaho ng isa, kundi trabaho ng lahat," Malano added.

(Disaster risk reduction is not the responsibility of just one person, but the responsibility of everyone.) – Rappler.com

Acor Arceo

Acor Arceo is a Central Desk editor for Rappler. Trained in both online and TV newsrooms, Acor supervises Rappler’s coverage of disasters, handles the business desk, and ensures consistency in editorial standards across all sections.

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