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Tropical Storm Jolina, the country’s 10th Tropical Cyclone for year, may have already exited the landmass, but not before making landfall nine times. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the storm left 3 people dead and 31 missing last Sept 8, 2021.
Now, the country holds its breath for the approach of Typhoon Kiko. PAGASA has already declared Tropical Cyclone Wind Signals (TCWS) for areas in Luzon such as Cagayan and Batanes. Meanwhile, PAGASA says that both Kiko and Jolina are intensifying the Southwest Monsoon (Habagat), predicted to bring rains in Luzon and Visayas.
Huge waves in Masbate due to #JolinaPH (photo by Damian Danao Catao)
Weeks before these weather disturbances, PAGASA held its monthly climate outlook forum to discuss climate conditions for the rest of the year. “For the past months, we witnessed localized thunderstorms especially in the afternoon and at night,” said Senior Weather Specialist Rusy G. Abastillas in a mix of Filipino and English. Localized thunderstorms are short-lived storms that happen when temperatures on the ground are at their peak, usually during the late afternoon and early evening.
According to Abastillas, these weather systems may also affect the Philippines in the next 5 months (September 2021 – January 2022):
- Southwest Monsoon (Habagat) – warm and moist winds causing rains in the country’s western area.
- Tropical Cyclone – develops in warm tropical oceans. Other countries call it a hurricane or typhoon. In September, 2 or 3 TCs are likely to develop within the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).
Number of Tropical Cyclones we can expect until November this year (source: PAGASA)
- Easterlies – winds coming from the east and passing through the Pacific Ocean, bringing warm and humid weather
- Low Pressure Area – associated with inclement weather. An LPA may develop into a Tropical Cyclone.
- Intertropical Convergence Zone – usually brings cloudy skies, scattered rain showers, and thunderstorms. The ICTZ is the point where the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet.
- Tail-End of the Frontal System – usually brings rainfall. This is formed when the cold air mass dominates over the warm air mass.
La Niña Watch
Atmospheric conditions are dynamic, which means they may change any time. While the World Meteorological Society (WMO) announced the end of La Niña last June, it released a new report stating the possible re-emergence of weak La Niña later this year.
La Niña, which refers to the cooling of ocean surface, brings above-normal rainfall. Its harmful impacts include floods and landslides. “There are some models saying that La Niña is likely to persist during October, November, December, and January,” said PAGASA Assistant Weather Services Chief Ana Liza Solis. “Currently, we declared a La Niña Watch. This means that conditions are favorable for the development of La Niña within the next 6 months, with the probability of around 55%. La Niña is more likely to start in the October, November, December season. It is predicted to persist not long enough to constitute a La Niña event.” Nevertheless, Filipinos need to brace for the impacts of increased rainfall.
Weak La Niña was also observed from October 2020 to March this year. Solis stressed that back-to-back La Niña events are not uncommon. Moreover, historical data indicates that the second cycle usually produces weaker rainfall. However vigilance is still needed. “We need to keep monitoring. We can’t discount the possibility of a Super Typhoon, so we have to be prepared at all times.”
The fact that La Niña brings increased rainfall should already be cause for heightened preparation. “We still need to take caution. It can still be potentially dangerous. Hopefully, we won’t experience strong cyclones like what happened during Yolanda. There was no La Niña at the time, but the effects were devastating. These events can happen at any given time,” warned Solis.
She added that from 1948 to 2020, data shows that disastrous tropical cyclones usually pass the PAR from September to December.
Massive flood in Samar due to #JolinaPH (photo by RMN Tacloban)
According to Solis, the Southwest Monsoon is likely to transition into the Northeast Monsoon (Amihan) or the cool northeast wind this October. “During this time, rains will be more frequent in the eastern section of Luzon,” she explained. “Still, areas in Isabela, parts of Central Luzon including Metro Manila, and most parts of MIMAROPA and Bicol are likely to experience above-normal rainfall conditions. This is probably due to the occurrence of tropical cyclones.”
Meanwhile, November brings above-normal rainfall over most parts of Luzon, and mostly near-normal in Visayas and Mindanao. For December, most parts of the country may experience near-normal rainfall, with patches of above-normal rainfall in Eastern Luzon, NCR, Region IV-A, and portions of Western Visayas.
For the rest of the year, it is possible for the country to experience temperatures from near average to above average. But it is important to note that last July, many PAGASA stations broke their extreme temperature records. “Clark, Pampanga recorded 35.4˚C last July 2,” said Abastillas. “This surpassed the former highest temperature of 35.2 ˚C in July 2017. The rest of the record-breaking temperatures are from Mindanao.” These areas include Cotabato City, El Salvador in Misamis Oriental, Malaybalay in Bukidnon, Davao City, Hinatuan in Suriago del Sur, and Zamboanga City. “Last July, Mindanao-PAGASA Regional Services Division issued a warning because of the extreme heat. Areas experienced more than 35 ˚C for almost five consecutive days,” said Abastillas.
Last May, Metro Manila recorded a searing 38.6˚C temperature, equal to its highest recorded way back in 1915. August also had its share of new highest recorded temperatures particularly in Cotabato and Zamboanga City.
Coal power plants like this one in Indonesia are driving global warming.
Climate Change Confirmed
When Panahon TV Executive Producer Donna May Lina asked if the alarming temperature rise is due to greenhouse gasses, Solis quickly replied in the affirmative. “Global warming significantly impacts this upward trend in temperatures. Anthropogenic or man-made greenhouses gases have greater impacts than natural greenhouse gases,” she explained
Even La Niña patterns are changing. “The gaps between stronger La Niña and El Niño episodes are getting shorter. If we look at our historical records, more back-to-back La Niña events are happening, which shortens the cycle of its stronger episodes.”
However, La Niña’s cooling effect will do little to curb the global temperature rise. According to the WMO report, “temperatures over land areas are expected to be above average between September and November, especially in the northern hemisphere.”
Climate events are now largely influenced by human activities, speeding up global warming and worsening extreme weather conditions. “Human-induced climate change amplifies the impacts of naturally occurring events like La Niña and is increasingly influencing our weather patterns, in particular through more intense heat and drought – and the associated risk of wildfires – as well as record-breaking deluges of rainfall and flooding,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
Abastillas echoed this observation. “The frequency of flooding last July didn’t happen just here in the Philippines. China also experienced it, as well as in Europe including Germany.”
Climate change is wreaking devastation all over the world, a fact confirmed by the 6th report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released last August 2021. The need to reduce greenhouse gases is more pressing than ever. The message rings loud and clear: improved disaster risk management may save lives, but more lives can be spared if we all act now to save the planet.