Survivors Meet the Storm

As  Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) headed their way this weekend, Filipinos began to show they were a people far too experienced in the ways of typhoons.
Anxiety mixed with prudence. 500,000 people evacuated to safer quarters. Many residents of Tacloban–the city hardest hit by last year’s disastrous Typhoon Haiyan—took shelter in the local stadium. Others stocked up with food and other supplies. The city’s deputy mayor told the BBC, “It’s stirring up a lot of emotions in our hearts and bringing back so many painful memories.”
Those who study severe weather warnings are increasingly noticing this phenomenon: whether by fear or familiarity, people with prior experience have a peculiarly complex reaction to impending severe weather.
For example, a succession of well predicted tornadoes hit central Oklahoma within a short span in May 2013. During the third outbreak of that period, public reaction went awry. Before meteorologists could warn of the dangers of fleeing by car, residents hit the roads and caused potentially catastrophic traffic jams. The spontaneous evacuation, unlike any seen previously for a tornado, exposed the public to great risks.
In a paper to be presented at the AMS Annual Meeting next month at the Phoenix Convention Center (Wednesday, 7 January, 11:15 a.m., Room 226AB), Julia Ross and colleagues will analyze the effects of experience on the public’s “freak out” response to these tornadoes.
Quoting a recent paper by Silver and Andrey in the AMS journal, Weather, Climate, and Society, Ross et al. note that direct experience with hazards amplifies risk perception.  But their survey results show both reasoned and fear-driven reactions to the warnings—and possibly some regionally specific preferences as well.
(In the presentation to follow Ross et al. at the Annual Meeting, Lisa Dilling and colleagues analyze the opposite of a wary, seasoned public. They report on the effect of surprise in the Boulder, Colorado, floods last year.)
If anyone knows typhoons, it’s the people of the Philippines. Supertyphoon Haiyan, which killed 7,000 a year ago, was but one of six different tropical cyclones that have killed more than 1,000 Filipinos in the past decade.
This time around authorities say they’re aiming for zero casualties. But there’s more than just anxiety to deal with. It takes time to rebuild from a blow like Haiyan. A Haiyan survivor in Tacloban told the Associated Press, “I’m scared. “I’m praying to God not to let another disaster strike us again. We haven’t recovered from the first.”

Beware the Wrath of a Presidential Storm

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) may indeed have underestimated the danger that Typhoon Conson posed to Manila in July. But it seems even more likely that PAGASA director Prisco Nilo underestimated the political storm that ensued.
At an emergency disaster coordination meeting after the storm (known locally as Typhoon Basyang), President Benigno Aquino scolded Nilo because PAGASA had led Manilans to believe the capital would be spared the brunt of the rain and winds:

That [storm] information it is sorely lacking and we have had this problem for quite a long time. … You do what you are supposed to do… this is not acceptable. I hope this is the last time that we are all brought to areas different from where we should be.

“He really was not angry,” Nilo commented at a press conference. “It was just a comment made by a President, he wanted things to improve, that was his point.”  Yet it seems the president was indeed angry; angry enough to fire Nilo a few weeks later.
It was only the second week of Aquino’s term when Basyang hit metropolitan Manila on 13 July, initially as a weak Category 1 tropical cyclone. Heavy rains and flooding led to at least 100 deaths (at least 70 people were initially reported as missing). The 95 kph

Typhoon Conson (Basyang)
Typhoon Conson approaching the Philippines in July. Portents of political trouble.

winds caused also caused power and communications outages that paralyzed the city for days. PAGASA’s last advisory that night at 11:00 p.m. said that the typhoon had weakened and was headed farther north of Manila. Yet around midnight the eye of the storm passed through the area.
Nilo’s explanation to President Aquino was that the bureau’s equipment limited storm updates and that the system needed to be updated:

We update the bulletin every six hours to take into account possible changes that were not earlier indicated by the mathematical models we are using as guidance in coming up with our forecast.

According to the Philippine news service GMA News, others have spoken up about similar constraints on PAGASA:

PAGASA officials have repeatedly said lack of modern equipment is hampering them from doing their jobs more effectively.

President Aquino’s responded that the bureau should have consulted

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