On comparing the typhoon predictions of the old Manila Observatory and present-day PAGASA

by Fr. Victor Badillo, SJ

blog:  pedrocalungsod.blogspot.com

Fr. Doucette sends weather balloon in 1935

Fr. Doucette of Manila Observatory sends weather balloon in 1935

After a destructive typhoon, often there appears in print something like this.  “Predictions of typhoons were better done by MO.”  This is an unfair and thoughtless comparison.  The Philippines for which MO (Manila Observatory) predicted typhoons is different from the Philippines for which PAGASA (Weather Bureau) predicts.

Before, electricity was used only for lighting and to power radio.  Now almost everything is powered by electricity: ATM, toaster, microwave oven, osterizer, juicer, refrigerator, fans, air conditioner, waste food grinder, TV, PC, washing and drying machines, floor waxer polisher, vacuum cleaner, elevators, garage door openers, can opener, hair dryer, water heater,  gasoline pump,  water pump,  etc. Thus before power loss did not disturb daily life. Now power loss is felt much.  There is water around us but none in the taps.

To compare PAGASA and MO is like comparing two archers who have to hit targets at the same distance.  But the rule is that archer A gets a score only if he gets a bull’s eye, while archer B gets a score if he hits the target anywhere.

The Philippines is more populated now than before.  Before, Manila was just the area now being served by Mayor Alfredo Lim.  San Juan, Caloocan, Pasay and Old Manila were separated by spaces without houses.  Quezon City did not exist.  Now Manila is Greater Manila covering the area from Valenzuela to Las Pinas and from Manila Bay to the Sierra Madre.

Thus if MO predicted a typhoon would not hit Manila and the path of the typhoon passed through present day Quezon City, then MO predicted rightly.  But if PAGASA predicted a typhoon would not hit Manila, and the path passed through Quezon City, then PAGASA predicted wrongly.

Before, there were no people living on the edges of rivers.  Now people live not only on the banks of rivers but even in the river bed, as in the Mangahan Bypass.  Before, esteros (tributaries of the Pasig river) worked as efficient drainage paths.  Before, esteros contained only water and fish. Now esteros have everything but water.  They are occupied by buildings and many no longer exist.  Before, even if areas became flooded, the waters
subsided fast.  Now they stay for many days. Before, one hardly found flimsy houses.  Now houses can be blown easily.  Thus no typhoon can pass without harming people and property.

There were open spaces between cities and towns in Luzon.  There were no structures and no transmission lines, few fishponds, rice fields, factories. Now there are more boats at sea.  Forests have vanished.  So a typhoon would pass through without damage to people and property.  But now, no typhoon can pass without considerable damage.

Dagat-Dagatan (small inland sea) was a natural catch basin.  Now, it is reclaimed land.  Obando and neighboring coast towns are flooded even without rain or storm.  The daily floods are due to the daily high tide.  Should we blame the moon?

Weather is a complex phenomenon.  The US with all kinds of radars,
satellites, rugged planes that fly into storms and weather maps produced by super computers predicted hurricane Katrina would hit Florida.  But it hit the areas in the Mississippi delta.  If the US Weather Bureau could make such a grievous but understandable mistake, we cannot in fairness blame PAGASA for less serious mistakes.

We are all laudatores temporis peracti, (the past is always better).  We easily forget our pains.

Before, clean scrubbed streets, swimming in sea beside Roxas Blvd., clergy in white soutana and with tonsure (bare skin the size of peso at the back of the head).  Madres (nuns) with only part of face visible,  collegians in necktie and coat and leather shoes, traffic rules observed, handsome speed cops in Harley Davison cycles, policemen in khaki uniform and tropical hat, without a gun and armed only with a batuta (night stick), Half a centavo for a cigarette stick, liter of gasoline at 10 centavos, five centavos by bus or tranvia (street car) from de la Salle to Post Office, five centavos baon, a dollar cost two pesos, no visa to enter US. No air pollution.  No acid rain.
Even grade school graduates spoken perfect English.  No one spoke Taglish even domestic helpers from the provinces.

We see the past through rosy glass, and look at the present through a magnifying glass.

Of course, there is need for a generous budget, more equipment and better trained personnel.  And understanding and patience from the public.  There is need for education for preparedness for disasters.  For obedience to directives of disaster officials.  For enforcement of zoning laws and of building codes.  For political will.  Blame, if any, should be pointed at the right persons or institutions.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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