PH is best lab for extreme weather chasersBy Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A country that gets hit by 20 typhoons every year may not be the best place to live for most people. But for weather enthusiasts and storm chasers, the Philippines’ reputation as storm central has made it the best place to witness the power of nature.
Dr. Olavo Rasquinho, head of the Typhoon Committee office in Macau, said the Philippines, with its active weather and geological systems, has become a valuable source of knowledge for meteorologists and other scientists studying volcanoes, floods and people’s responses to them.
“The Philippines is a country prone to natural disasters. We have learned a lot from the Philippines and with Pagasa … The Philippines is the best laboratory for natural disasters,” Rasquinho said in a recent interview.
Rasquinho, along with scientists from South Korea and Sri Lanka, visited Cagayan de Oro City recently to study the aftermath of Typhoon “Sendong.” South Korea, the team said, will help the Philippine government install weather equipment in the region to prevent another disaster.
James Reynolds is a 27-year-old videographer from London who lives in Hong Kong. He has criss-crossed Asia and has traveled to the Philippines several times to film the strongest typhoons in recent years as a freelance videographer for CNN and other news networks.
Reynolds, who also uploads his videos to YouTube under the handle TyphoonHunter, witnessed the destruction wrought by Typhoons “Pepeng” and “Santi” in 2009 and “Juan” in 2010. Those typhoons are considered among the most destructive cyclones to hit the Philippines, sinking central and northern Luzon as they crossed the island.
Reynolds also records volcano eruptions and the aftermaths of earthquakes. He grew up in London, where the weather is more stable. Abnormal weather from the Atlantic such as wind and snow storms had always piqued his interest. He moved to Asia in 2006 to study in Taiwan, where he saw his first tropical storm. Like the Philippines, Taiwan is in the path of storms that form in the Pacific.
“The eye of the storm passed quite far south, but the wind and rain were still ferocious in Taipei city,” Reynolds said. “After witnessing that once, I wanted to get much closer to the heart of the next typhoon to witness the most ferocious conditions of the eyewall surrounding the eye of the storm,” he said.
His videos show the forces of nature to people who have not seen tropical cyclones. His pictures of uprooted trees, rushing floods, and surging seas show the awesome power of nature at work.
“Typhoons are an incredible force of nature unleashing far more power than mankind could ever achieve,” Reynolds said. “To be able to witness one deliberately is not easy and is sometimes quite dangerous. However it’s awe-inspiring to see what nature is capable of. It’s also very humbling and puts mankind in its place, especially so when there is unfortunate damage to people’s lives and property.”
Reynolds is not the only one who has found the Philippines attractive for extreme weather. Scientists have flocked to the country too to observe typhoons and other natural disasters.
To balance world weather
Rasquinho said typhoons are often seen as enemies because of the destruction they cause in communities that are not prepared to cope with them. But they are part of nature and are needed to balance world weather.
Typhoons also help in transferring energy from the lower latitudes to the higher altitudes, he said. “They help break droughts, they fill our dams,” he said. Without typhoons, countries in the lower latitudes will warm up, while those in the north will get colder.
Rasquinho stressed that Filipinos must be prepared to face extreme climactic events. While climate-change studies have yet to prove conclusively that the Pacific will see more and stronger typhoons in the long-term, the concept of climate variability in this part of the world has been observed, he said. This means that the Philippines should expect to see extreme typhoons in the years to come.
Rasquinho said the government should put early warning signals in vulnerable places. He noted that in the case of Sendong, which dumped 181 millimeters of rain in 24 hours in Cagayan de Oro, there were no rain gauges in the river systems and in the mountains that could have alerted the people downstream of the possibility of floods.
False sense of security
The communities should also be educated about the risks and be warned of incoming typhoons, Rasquinho said. The fact that typhoons rarely visit northern Mindanao has given residents there a false sense of security, which led to the loss of hundreds of lives when Sendong came last December.
In chasing storms across Asia, Reynolds said he had seen how people often undermined the threat of severe weather. “The biggest threat is when tropical storms hit areas which are not used to them, for example in December last year when Sendong hit Mindanao, it killed many people, partly because the area is not [used] to getting as many storms as, for example, northern Luzon,” he said.
The changes, Reynolds said, usually comes after the fact.
“Sadly it normally takes a catastrophic event for people to change or improve their reactions to severe weather,” Reynolds said. “In 2010, Typhoon Juan killed over 20 people in Taiwan when their bus was swept off a mountain road. Now the Taiwanese police close most mountain roads during a typhoon to help prevent similar catastrophes.”