Editorial: Conflicting typhoon forecasts

THE headline of one Manila newspaper yesterday showed how confusing it is to report storm tracking information from multiple sources.

The information that typhoon Ruby packed “peak winds” of 350 kilometers per hour on its approach to Eastern Visayas was from one of these multiple sources, specifically the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). The figure was probably chosen for its shock value.

The article itself noted that JTWC pegged Ruby’s maximum sustained winds at that time to be “only” 287 kilometers per hour, which is still of super typhoon magnitude. The Philippines’ weather bureau, Pagasa, released a different and lower figure, just like the Japan Meteorological Association (JMA) and the Hong Kong Observatory (KO).

This is because JTWC measures maximum sustained winds differently from the other meteorological services in many other countries in the Pacific. Without this clarification, the release of information on the strength of a typhoon will always be confusing.

Thus, Pagasa pegged Ruby’s maximum sustained winds at that time at only 205 kph and gusts of 240 kph. JMA had Ruby’s maximum sustained winds at 212 kph while HKO listed Ruby’s maximum sustained winds at 205 kph.

Being definite on the strength of the typhoon as well as the direction of its movement is important not only in preparations done by the various disaster risk reduction and management councils but also for the mindset of the people that will have to deal with the calamity.

While having multiple sources is good so we can have a better picture of what kind of weather disturbance we are preparing for, this poses a problem when the figures that come out are not subjected to verification and analysis. But only experts can do that.

Because of this, the non-experts who share the information either present the conflicting figures without verification and analysis or they come up with their own interpretation of the data—-which is even worse.

Perhaps, the next time around, government and media organizations can come up with a system that would prevent confusion in the dissemination of information on typhoons.


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