Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
In a year of deadly disasters and calamities, the early December typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) that killed at least 407 people in the Philippines is a great reminder that the effects of climate change are for real!
“We don’t get typhoons in December,” the late president Benigno Aquino III was quoted as saying. “They normally end by September. A typhoon happening in October is considered a late event.”
Unfortunately, two of the most destructive typhoons that hit the southern part of the Philippines happened in December. Pablo (Bopha), which made a landfall on December 4, 2012, was considered “the strongest tropical cyclone on record to ever affect the southern island of Mindanao.”
Over 1,000 people were killed, most of those were from Davao Oriental and Davao de Oro. Rushing floodwaters destroyed entire barangays, which made then-Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to comment: “Entire families may have been washed away.”
The other one is the most recent Odette, which hit the country on December 16. “As Rai pounded the Philippines, heavy rainfall, strong and gusty winds impacted several areas around the storm’s path,” Wikipedia reported.
“Many areas across the Visayas and Mindanao lost electricity with several provinces and areas being deprived further of communication services,” Wikipedia continued. “Downed trees obstructed many roadways, and flooding was a major problem across the affected regions, particularly Bohol, where the storm was described as ‘one of the worst for the province.’ Surigao City was reported to be completely damaged. A state of calamity has been placed in the province of Cebu.”
Damages at the aforementioned location were projected to be worth P5 billion, with those in Siargao being estimated to be worth P20 billion and those in Negros Occidental being estimated to be worth P5.9 billion. Aside from reported deaths, at least 1,147 people were injured, with 83 missing.
These giant, rotating storms that bring wind, rain, and destruction are called typhoons in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. They are known as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and the northeastern Pacific Ocean. In the southern Pacific or the Indian Ocean, they are called cyclones. All three are fundamentally the same type of storm.
In the Philippines, the storm is known as bagyo, a term that came into existence after a 1911 typhoon in Baguio, which had a record rainfall of 46 inches within 24 hours.
“About 95% of the tropical cyclones affecting the Philippines originate in the Pacific Ocean while the rest come from the South China Sea,” says the state-run Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
According to PAGASA, typhoons usually occur from the month of June to November. Most, however, occur in the months of July and August, “though other months outside of this period are not entirely free from tropical cyclones.”
During the early part of the typhoon season, PAGASA claims, tropical cyclones pass the northern regions of the country. In the latter part (from October to December), the central and southern parts are more prone to the passage.
Based on a study conducted by PAGASA from 1948 to 1989, Northern Luzon experiences five cyclones every two years. Central and Southern Luzon encounter three cyclones in two years and five cyclones in three years, respectively. A cyclone passes Eastern Visayas every year.
The Philippines has the highest occurrences of typhoons around the world. “We are known to have the most number of typhoons: 19-21 a year,” said Anthony Joseph R. Lucero, PAGASA weather services chief of Mindanao.
Storms are categorized by the strength of their winds, although the wind itself often isn’t the deadliest part of the tempest.
In the past, Filipinos only heard of tropical cyclones. Depending on the intensity and strength of the winds that they bring, tropical cyclones are classified as a tropical depression (30-60 kilometers per hour of sustained winds), tropical storm (61-120 kph), severe tropical storm (121-170 kph), and typhoon or hurricane (171-220 kph).
Some years back, the weather bureau added a fifth: a super typhoon. “Typhoons as strong as super typhoons with more than 220 kilometers per hour of sustained winds in the country are becoming more frequent,” PAGASA Administrator Vicente Malano was quoted as saying.
“Most super typhoons don’t landfall,” Lucero said. “They just enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility and then exit without even touching the land.”
But when a super typhoon does, just like Sendong in 2011, Pablo in 2012, Yolanda in 2013, and Odette in 2021, the devastation is incomprehensible. As such, all four were delisted in the names of typhoons.
Among the dangers associated with typhoons are heavy rainfalls and floods, strong winds, storm surge, landslides, and mudflows. “Landslides can bury people alive and destroy properties,” the weather bureau reminds. “Mudflows, on the other hand, are hazardous to people and properties, too.”
Super typhoons will now be the new normal as a result of climate change. The Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says climate change will lead to tropical cyclones with higher rainfall, greater intensity, and a greater proportion of high-intensity storms.
“These changes are largely caused by warming ocean temperatures, which drive cyclonic storm activity,” explains the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Typhoons reportedly “draw their energy from deep below the ocean’s surface – up to depths of 2,000 meters,” wrote Daniel Levitt and Niko Komenda in an article published in The Guardian. The temperature at these depths is measured by Ocean Heat Content, a metric that has soared since 1970, driven largely by four of the world’s major oceans.
“Warmer sea surface temperature could intensify tropical storm wind speeds, potentially delivering more damage if they make landfall,” the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions likewise points out.
Sea level rise is likely to make coastal storms more damaging. Global heating is causing the ice caps at the north and south poles to melt, resulting in rising sea levels. “Sea level rise also increases the damage caused by the storms by exacerbating the effects of storm surge, where waves generated by high winds inundate coastal areas,” UCS says.
This is very alarming as the Philippines is a collection of islands, and most people are living on the coast. Not to mention is the low elevation of much of the land. Indeed, it is a recipe for disaster.
Research-based on records from Japan and Hawaii indicate that typhoons in the northwest Pacific intensified by 12-15% on average since 1977. “The observed strongest typhoons doubled, or tripled in some regions, the intensity of particularly landfalling systems is most pronounced,” Wikipedia noted.
“This uptick in storm intensity affects coastal populations in China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, and has been attributed to warming ocean waters,” it added.
Typhoons are a natural phenomenon. No one can escape from them. Since Filipinos are living in a typhoon-prone country, they need to know what to do before the typhoon enters our area, during the storm, and after the typhoon leaves.
Japan, also a typhoon-prone country, has listed some things to do before the typhoon. Japan Times shared the following tips: Make sure your phones, portable chargers, and other devices are fully charged. Bring in outdoor plants and other objects that could be blown away by heavy winds. Ensure that larger objects are secure.
If you’re in the path of a typhoon, be sure to wear clothing to bed that you can immediately go outside in. Write down important phone numbers and store them in your emergency kit. In addition to contacts of family and friends, note emergency contacts.
The website wayph.com also shares the following tips: Inspect and clean up your house, especially your drainage system. Check to see if there’s a need to fix your houses, such as holes on your roofs, damaged doors, windows, or ceilings. Have them fixed as soon as possible.
Store ample amounts of ready-to-eat foods and water. Make sure that the foods and water that you will store is adequate enough for you and your family and will last for a few days. Ready-to-eat foods such as canned/packed foods are especially helpful when cooking is no longer feasible.
If you are advised to evacuate, do so. These people who will inform you of the need for evacuation are more knowledgeable than anyone else. So don’t be hard-headed, at least not during this time of distress.
Always have our emergency kits with you. Your emergency kit may include first-aid supplies, candles, flashlights, life vests, and battery-operated radio.
Money will always be an essential tool during emergencies. So, always store what you’ll only use for these kinds of situations. They can be a real life-saver.
During the storm, these are the things you need to have in mind: If there’s no advice to evacuate, then better stay inside your house. Keep yourself calm and postpone any scheduled travels. Keep on monitoring the typhoon’s movement through your television, radio, or the internet.
Stay away from downed power lines. When exposed to water, electric facilities such as power switchboards and power lines could cause not only a power outage but also the hazard of electric shock.
Do not wade along flooded areas to keep yourself from contracting water-borne diseases. If it is inevitable, wear protective gear such as raincoats and boots to protect yourself. If you are told to evacuate, calmly comply. Shut all windows, turn off the main power supply, and secure the house.
Once the typhoon is over, some things to think over: If your house was one of the heavily damaged, make sure that you heed to the advice of the authorities regarding its safety and stability. If they are uncertain of your house’s condition, do not go inside yet.
Watch out for live wires or any electrical outlet that may be submerged in water. If you don’t have sufficient knowledge on electrical wirings, have a knowledgeable person inspect these wires as well as your appliances before you actually use them again.
Boil water before drinking as they may be contaminated. Clean up: Dispose of things that may be a ground for mosquitoes to breed. Such stuff may include tires, cans, or pots.
Storms come and go. What we need to do is always to be prepared for them. It is always a tragedy after the storm: death, the devastation of edifices, and the destruction of crops. But all these should not stop from facing another day. Life goes on, as they say.
“Storms don’t come to teach us painful lessons, rather they were meant to wash us clean,” Shannon L. Alder reminded. To which Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy added: “Birds sing after a storm. Why shouldn’t we?”