Typhoon Juan was so strong that when it hit Palanan Bay, Isabela, last October 18, it packed sustained winds of 225 kilometers per hour.
And Pagasa was ready for it – and even more super howlers could be coming.
The typhoon season lasts until December and Juan was only the 10th of about 20 tropical depressions that batter the country each year.
The current La Nina weather could also spawn strong typhoons as it did with Typhoon Milenyo in 2006.
Typhoon Juan “was a test of fire,” said Science Secretary Mario Montejo. “We had the confidence based on competence and science.”
It was not by chance that Typhoon Juan was tracked meticulously, he said: “Before the typhoon formed in the Pacific, we were holding dry runs for such an event.”
“This time, we were frantic, badgering our field men for local data, and we had a sort of pass-your-paper, finish-or-not-finish deadlines,” Montejo said.
“We believe it's repeatable,” he said, referring to the more accurate and timely forecasting.
For the first time, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology, had hourly weather reports, tracking the storm, predicting where it'll hit “almost to the town” long before Juan made landfall, said Montejo.
“If it veered a bit, we knew exactly where,” he said.
More specific details on which towns will be affected were known and local governments were warned way ahead of the typhoon making landfall.
Eight hours before it hit land, when the supertyphoon entered the Philippine area of responsibility, weather men were already triply watchful. For their effort, authorities believe, many lives were spared and more properties protected.
Days before Juan hit, villagers and farmers along its path were warned of the potential disaster. Weather officials promptly issued the highest alert for coastal Isabela and Cagayan and mountainous Kalinga, Ifugao and Mountain Province in the Cordilleras.
When it reached the country last October 18, Juan was the strongest to hit the planet this year, leaving a wasteland on its wake. Megi to the world, Supertyphoon Juan flattened villages and farms in Northern Luzon.
The superhowler made landfall in Sierra Madre’s Estagno Point at Divilacan Peak in Isabela shortly before noon, about 320 kilometers northeast of Manila.
It was so powerful that China, next in line, warned of a destructive "50-year storm surge" along its coastline.
Already classified a typhoon while still in the open sea, visibility instantly turned to near zero when it hit Cagayan Valley and flattened many banana and sugar plantations, uprooted corn and tobacco fields, cancelled flights and ship departures, downed power lines, phone and Internet services, tore off roofs, snapped trees in half, caused landslides, overflowed riverbanks, made bridges impassable and deemed pedestrian walking next to impossible and dangerous.
Up to 90 percent of communications in the Valley were knocked out: the entire Isabela province without power along with 16 of Cagayan's 28 towns.
Landslides closed many major roads from and to the mountain provinces, including those in Apayao, Benguet, Mountain Province and Nueva Vizcaya; Kennon Road to Baguio City was impassable.
Pagasa puts in place more typhoon tracking stations
More weather stations on the ground will fine tune tracking typhoons and narrow further the area covered that pinpoints its path, from the 45 to 50 kilometers eye-of-the-storm currently tracked, Science Secretary Mario Montejo has revealed.
Eighty-five new weather stations will be added by January and 100 more rain gauges will be in place next year, on top of the 101 stations already there.
All these – and more – to generate real-time data on the ground needed to hone weather tracking, said Montejo.
The weather stations will provide more on-the-ground information; the rain gauges will strengthen current capabilities to measure the amount of rain and also indicate typhoon strength.
Five Doppler radars will be added this December and three more in the next two years will complement the two now operational, Montejo said.
He said more ocean buoys will be deployed so that ships are informed about the track and strength of typhoons as well as the ferocity and height of waves.
Montejo said more ocean buoys will be deployed so that ships are informed about the track and strength of typhoons as well as the ferocity and height of waves.
A nationwide river control and monitoring system in the pipeline will help prevent the repeat of Typhoon Pepeng last year when Pangasinan and most parts of northwest Luzon were flooded.
Indeed, Montejo said, a series of water impounding dams will be constructed to ease flood threats.
A DOST study has found that during the devastating Typhoon Ondoy last year, 55 percent of the flood waters came from the heavy rains that fell on Sierra Mountain watersheds and overflowed.
Had impoundment dams been there to hold the waters, even just for four to six hours until the rains subsided, Metro Manila and other areas would have been spared from the unprecedented floods, Montejo said, adding it illustrates the need for such a flood control system.
A huge water impoundment dam with a holding capacity of 30 million to 50 million cubic meters, or a series of smaller dams with the same total holding capacity, is seriously “under study”for Sierra Madre watersheds, Montejo said, adding it could cost P1 billion.
It's not just flood monitoring, it would be a comprehensive flood control system for Metro Manila and surrounding areas, he said.
All these, Montejo said, to avoid the consequences that occurred last year when the intensity of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng was unforeseen. More than 1,100 people were killed in the worst flooding in Luzon and Metro Manila's recent history.
Ondoy dumped record rains that submerged 80 percent of the capital region and nearby areas, killing 277 people, leaving tens of thousands homeless.
The last time a similar punch hit the country was in 1995 with Supertyphoon Rosing, a very powerful Category 5 with 290-kph sustained winds, the strongest at that time in 25 years; 936 lives were lost, over 96,000 houses destroyed and P10.829 billion in damages caused.
In 2006, typhoon Reming's 250-kph winds set off mudslides that buried entire villages and killed about 1,000 people, mostly in Bicol. Damaged to property was estimated at over P5 billion.
In comparison, while a superhowler, Typhoon Juan, also tagged with a Category 5 highest rating, recorded relatively fewer casualties at 19 lives lost, and less damage to agriculture, fisheries and infrastructure at P5 billion. (Paul Icamina)