PAGASA’s weather forecasting misses on Basyang hitting Metro

07/14/2010 - MANILA, Philippines—This year’s typhoon season got off to a bad start for the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) as its warning that “Basyang” would directly hit Metro Manila might have come too late.

So glaring was the inaccuracy that even President Benigno Aquino III told officials of the agency that he did not want to see a repeat of their error on “Basyang” during a meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) meeting early Wednesday morning.

During its 11 a.m. press conference Wednesday, PAGASA Administrator Prisco Nilo admitted that the numerical weather prediction models used by the agency were insufficient in predicting the path of “Basyang” across Luzon accurately.

In its update Tuesday, the agency said “Basyang” would hit Central Luzon directly and that the possibility that the center would pass over if not close to Metro Manila was small.

But in the 11 p.m. Tuesday weather update, PAGASA raised the storm signal warning over Metro Manila to number 2, which meant winds would reach 61 to 100 kilometers per hour.

“Basyang” hit Metro Manila slightly after midnight of Tuesday or in the first hour of Wednesday with a lead-time of only two to three hours between the warning and the arrival of the storm.

Nilo said during the press conference Wednesday morning that the center of the storm passed by Metro Manila and nearby provinces like Cavite, Rizal and Bataan.

“We said in our 5 p.m. (Tuesday) update that there was a possibility the center of Basyang passing Metro Manila,” Nilo argued.

He said they had “difficulty” with the models they have been using “but we were able to put out the storm signals” anyway.

But Nilo admitted that the models “need improvement” and that they would need better communications equipment that would allow automatic transmission of the data, to the tune of some P1.8 billion.

“There are some things that need to be improved to improve accuracy,” Nilo said.

The PAGASA head also said that Aquino was not angry with them during the NDCC meeting. “Gusto lang ma improve ang accuracy. (He said he just wanted to improve the accuracy). He asked us what needs to be done and we responded by saying that the equipment needed to be improved. Sabi nya dapat di ito maulit (He said he did not want to see a repeat of the error).”

Nathaniel Servando, PAGASA deputy administrator for research and development, also stressed that their forecast was not erroneous. “There have been suggestions (on how to improve the forecast) so we will work on that.”

“Forecasting is dynamic and requires continuous monitoring. It just so happened that the storm decided to pass by Metro Manila. The numerical models require improvement,” Servando said. He added that they have been in a “process of refining” their methods “and that is the reason for more equipment.”

At present, PAGASA has two radars with upgraded Doppler capabilities, one in Baler and another in Baguio. But the Baler radar has a blind spot to the east because of the Sierra Madre mountains while the Baguio radar cannot cover Metro Manila. This means PAGASA is only making do with the information from these radars and from old radars.

By August, the agency hopes the upgraded Doppler radar in Subic would be completed. This radar would cover Metro Manila. By September, PAGASA said it would see the completion of the upgrade of radars in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur; Tampakan, North Cotabato; Cebu and Tagaytay. The last radar station would have the capability to cover Metro Manila.

Rainfall in the last 12 hours reached 131 millimeters at the Port Area in Manila and 74.2 millimeters at the agency’s facility in Science Garden in Quezon City.

But the strong winds startled many Metro Manila residents. Recorded wind speed was 95 kilometers per hour, 55 kilometers per hour at Science Garden and 85 kilometers per hour in Tanay.

PAGASA also said “Basyang” continued its westward track out of the country’s area of responsibility Wednesday morning.

As of 11 a.m., the center of the storm was spotted 150 kilometers southwest of Iba, Zambales.

The storm was still packing maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 120 kilometers per hour.

It is forecast to move west at 22 kilometer per hour.

Storm signal number 1 is still raised over Batangas, Cavite including Lubang Island, Bataan, Zambales, northern Mindoro and Metro Manila.

Servando said the weather in Luzon would improve later Wednesday but warned that sailing in coastal areas in Central and Southern Luzon should not be done at this time.

Nilo said they were expecting another weather disturbance in July, two to three in August and three to four in September and October. (Inquirer.net)

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