15 July 2010

It's also about the mindset

I CAN ONLY commiserate with the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), which again bungled its job of providing accurate forecast on the path of Typhoon "Basyang" that caught Metro Manila residents on their pants once more.

But while I agree with the Inquirer editorial's point on securing the necessary equipment, that is built on the faulty premise that it is the only solution to our woes. And if we are to follow this line of reasoning, it will need P1.8 billion in government spending and two more years before the Doppler radars are finally made operational.

For a country lying on the typhoon alleyway like ours, this is not an acceptable option.

And the premise easily crumbles in the face of David Michael "Mike" Padua's accurate forecast of Basyang's track. As early as 2 pm last Tuesday, in a meeting hastily called by Mayor John G. Bongat, Padua's latest map tracking the typhoon clearly showed Metro Manila as its target.

"Medyo nagbaba an direksyon as of 12 noon, kaya mahanggilid sa northern Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte, pero at most 50 kms away from the city," city disaster pointman Erning Elcamel explained, interpreting Padua's table of strike probabilities on Naga. It used data from the Institute for Astronomy of the University of Hawai‘i.

Now, how did an unassuming guy, armed only with his love of storm tracking and equipment either bought out of his own pocket or donated by friends, admirers and other partners, got it right -- while the entire PAGASA machinery got it wrong?

It's all about the mindset. From the looks of it, our state weather bureau's instinct is of the pre-internet days -- which is to rely on its outdated data gathering methodologies anchored on internally generated info from field men and their outdated equipment.

By holding on to these methods and procedures, it becomes like the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand.

Instead of sniping on Padua's work, which some of its local people do out of spite, it's about time PAGASA listens to what the guy said:

"...the problem with PAGASA’s forecast went beyond the procurement of new equipment. You will need more training to go with the new equipment. But more than how to use the new equipment, training in the new methods of meteorology and storm tracking.

"Padua recommended training under experts from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He also said PAGASA should use resources on the Internet for information on coming storms. 'There are many websites officially recognized by many agencies,' he said."
Actually, instead of relying on the state, what communities and local governments should do is to create space for more Mike Paduas to flourish and encourage them to pursue their hobbies with renewed vigor.

The academia would be a perfect place to start. After all, Mike Padua by day is a professor at the Naga College Foundation.