“We don’t have to sit back and wait for the next storm”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 January) – For a couple of years now, astrogeophysicist Fr. Daniel McNamara, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences of the Ateneo de Davao University, had been repeatedly saying that with climate change, “there’s gonna be bigger storms, there’s gonna be frequent storms.”

Fr. Daniel McNamaraBut not many could fully grasp what McNamara, also chair of the Environental Studies Department of the Natural Science and Math Cluster, meant. After all, except for the Surigao provinces, the rest of Mndanao’s 26 provinces are – rather, were – typhoon-free.

Within 12 months, however, two typhoons had struck Mindanao: Sendong in the northern part on Dcember 16-17, 2011 and super typhoon Pablo on December 4, 2012 in the eastern part which placed 24 out of 26 Mindanao provinces, under public storm signals 1, 2 and 3. Seventeen of the 24 were under Signal 3.

It was the first time in history that the entire mainland of Mindanao and the island provinces of Basilan, Camiguin and Dinagat,  were placed under storm signals.  Only the two other island provinces – Sulu and tawi-tawi – were not.

Twenty-two days after Pablo, Typhoon Quinta threatened to  hit Mindanao again  on December 26 but made landfall, to the relief of the Pablo-battered towns, in the Visayas.

According to the Manila Observatory report on Typhoon Sendong, it is important for the public to know the historical information that typhoons, though not as frequent as those visiting Luzon and the Visayas, do pass through Mindanao.

Typhoons in Mindanao

The Manila Observatory report noted that approximately 21 typhoons passed through Mindanao in 17 years, from 1883 to 1900, citing the typhoon trajectories identified by Selga

It also noted that 35 typhoons made landfall in Mindanao in 65 years — from 1945 to 2010 — and that six typhoons made landfall in Mindanao in the last 15 years before Typhoon Sendong struck the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and portions of Bukidnon in December 2011. .

The report also pointed out that typhoons do pass through Mindanao in December and that “roughly one typhoon per 10 years crosses Mindanao in December.”

It added that exactly 91 years before Sendong, a typhoon also passed that way on December 16-17, 1920 and that the next December typhoon was recorded in December 1930.

But from “roughly one typhoon per ten years” crossing Mindanao in December, it is now two typhoons in 12 months or in two succeeding Decembers.

“We don’t have to sit back”

Fr. McNamara, however, maintains that “with modern science, we don’t have to sit back and wait for the next storm.”

“As we have been saying for years now, with climate change, with more energies in the atmosphere, which is basically what it means, there’s gonna be bigger storms, there’s gonna be frequent storms. So that’s what happened to Pablo… The tracks of the storm will not necessarily be the same. So we’re used to not having storms in this part of Mindanao, okay, but that’s not going to be the same and that’s how we see with Pablo,” he said.

“We can’t just sit back and say alright, that was just unfortunate, you know. No, no. It’s the energy in the atmosphere that causes what we call extreme events …  meaning there’ll be too much rain…. too much in the sense that we’re not used to that much rain in that amount of time. There’ll be things like that – extreme rainfall. The other part of that is drought. There won’t be enough rain in times of what we normally would expect. In short, I’m saying that there is no normal anymore. The weather patterns are not what they are or have been. And so now we‘re trying to figure out scientifically, what’s gonna be the new norm for…ultimately for the middle of  the century? What should people expect to be the weather patterns of 2050 and leading up to that, we’re just trying to get shorter term. What do we expect for 2020? What do we expect by 2030?”

“We cannot just sit down and wait for the next storm,” McNamara said.

He told MindaNews that the first thing to do is to  give a “simple explanation on this energy in the atmosphere and what should be expected ,what is unusual…” and the second is to be more aware of accident-prone areas, which areas are susceptible and vulnerable to too much rain and local government units should be aware of these.

He said the ADDU’s Tropical Institute for Climate Studies (TropICS)  provides training on risk management and that 20 officials in South Cotabato are presently taking up Masters in Tropical Risk Management.

He quoted South Cotabato Governor Arthur Pingoy as saying “I don’t want to use my disaster money after the disaster, I want to use it before disaster happens.”

He said the governor is “happy with the results (and) we’re happy with the results.”

McNamara said the governor wants 20 more employees  to enrol in June 2013.

“You can do this, you can start training people and get them ready,” he said.

The masteral students are trained on how to use satellite maps, to look at their history of disasters, their geo-hazard zones, what ecology is all about, how the weather is changing, etc…

People can be trained

“This is my point that, we probably should tell these people to go back into Compostela Valley, or we go over to Cateel (in Davao Oriental)and we say to the local officials maybe if we reach the governor you know there are ways that you can start looking at … so that people will not just look back and wait. They can be trained more to work pro-actively on what can happen and what may happen,” McNamara added.

He said rain gauges could be set up and that in fact, there are 20 rain gauges in Davao City, following the flashfloods in Matina Pangi on  June 30- July 1, 2011

The project involves four schools which have five rain gauges each and which send the data to the ADDU, the node, for analysis.

He said there is a need to look at these extreme events  “to have some idea on what is happening, for  example, the amount of rain, wind, how strong and what direction was it coming from, what is the relative humidity, temperature on the ground.

McNamara explained this  is necessary so that farmers can be told, for example, that this will be a drought year and  ”if it is too hot at night, rice won’t grow anymore.”

“People can be trained to understand what’s going on,” he stressed.

“This is the beginning for the weather patterns that’s gonna be in 2020, 2030 so start now. Let’s start photographing those denuded hills. The hills are gone. The trees are gone. Let’s get local temperatures now because those temperatures will never be the same.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)