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Pagasa improves warning system on storm surges

/ 05:05 AM June 18, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — In a bid to save lives from the wrath of typhoons, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) launched its revamped storm surge warning system, this time underscoring the impact of storm surges on communities.

Instead of simply focusing on weather-related warnings, the updated system would highlight the hazards of storm surges, which could enable people to act swiftly in the face of disaster.

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Similar to a tsunami, surges occur when the sea rises due to the winds and pressure changes associated with storms.

Lessons from ‘Yolanda’

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The improvements to the state weather bureau’s system were largely from lessons learned from Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), where more than 6,200 people were killed, mostly due to storm surges that reached as high as 5 meters.

“If they had a better understanding then on the impact of storm surges, perhaps the people could have then evacuated to safety,” said Cecilia Monteverde, chief of Pagasa’s Hydrometeorology, Tropical Meteorology and Instruments Development and Research Division.

Monteverde said the bulletins issued during Yolanda focused mainly on the typhoon, with only a brief mention of storm surges at the end.

This time, the improved Pagasa forecasting and warning system would be composed of two categories: the storm surge watch and the storm surge warning.

The watch would indicate a moderate- to high-risk storm surge within the next 48 hours, while the warning would be for areas at high-risk of surges within the next 24 hours.

Both the storm surge watch and warning would be updated every six hours and would be available on the bureau’s website.

Monteverde said issuing the alerts 24 to 48 hours ahead would allow decision makers, particularly those in local governments, more time to prepare and plan for potential evacuation and other disaster-related actions.

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Surge heights would also be color-coded, depending on the severity of the tide.

Blue would indicate a surge of less than a meter; yellow, from 1 to 2 meters; orange, from 2 to 3 meters; and red for above 3 meters.

But more importantly, each warning would spell the impacts in the communities to be affected.

For instance, a surge height on orange alert is expected to result in severe damage to coastal infrastructures, significant beach erosion and possible river flooding.

The red alert, meanwhile, would spell catastrophic and extensive inundation, which would require evacuation in low-lying areas and cancellation of all marine activities.

Better understanding

“Some people would not take action if you only tell them the weather conditions,” Monteverde said.

“Now that we show the impacts and the corresponding actions, they would have a better understanding of how these can affect them,” she said.

Renato Solidum, science undersecretary for disaster risk reduction and climate change affairs, said equipping people with the proper information would allow for better preparedness against hazards brought by disasters.

“Warning is just one part, but there needs to be appropriate and timely response, in which everybody in the community plays a role,” he said.

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TAGS: Pagasa, Philippine weather, storm surge warning
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