Typhoons – Things to Know


by Dr. Romulo A. Virola
Secretary General, NSCB

Do you know in which month of the year it is most dangerous to travel by sea?
Do you know which month suffers the heaviest damage from typhoons?
And do you know the favorite route of the most destructive typhoons in the Philippines.

Last month was Disaster Consciousness Month, and of course we still remember the tragic fate of the passengers of Princess of the Stars on June 21, even as, after the usual initial condemnation and investigation of everyone and anyone who could be blamed, everything now seems to have been put in the bin of history. But with climate change and its inconvenient truth of consequences becoming all too real, and nay surreal, surely, we should ever be prepared for all types of disasters. As we have always said, statistics are very useful and in fact, necessary for informed decisions! Preparing ourselves to cope with disasters therefore, will benefit from good quality disaster statistics.

More than 15 years ago, the NSCB tried to put some order in the compilation of disaster statistics in the Philippines when we created a Task Force (TF) to address the very often conflicting figures on damages/casualties inflicted by natural disasters. The NSCB approved the statistical framework and the disaster information system developed by the TF and directed its implementation with the NDCC, NSCB and  DILG  as the key agencies involved. Unfortunately, resource constraints and/or the lack of political will to invest in statistics and in statisticians hindered progress.

Nonetheless, there are available statistics that we can examine. As the typhoons have come, this article focuses on statistics on typhoons . So dear readers, what should we know about typhoons?

  1. Tropical cyclones are classified into tropical depression, with winds up to 38 miles per hour, tropical storm with winds from 39 to 73 miles per hour    and typhoons with winds of at least 74 miles per hour.
  2. Because around the opening of classes in June, our children enjoy singing “rain, rain go away come again another day” the gods listen and indeed the rains would come another day! Historically from 1948 to 2007, tropical cyclones (TC) and typhoons (TY) entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) most frequently in July ( 197 TC, 94 TY), August ( 189 TC, 88 TY ), September ( 177 TC, 92 TY ) and October ( 153 TC, 92 TY). The highest number of tropical cyclones to enter the PAR occurred in 1993 while the lowest occurred in 1998. During the last 8 years the flavored months of these typhoons were July (12) followed by August and September (10 each).  In fact, tropical cyclones and typhoons occurred most often in the 3rd quarter, followed by the 4th quarter and least during the first quarter. ( Table 1, Figure 1 and Figure 2 )
  3. On an annual basis during the period 2000-2007, the most number of tropical cyclones occurred in 2003 and 2004 ( 25 each); while the most number of typhoons occurred in 2004 (13) followed by 2006 (11) and 2007 (10). From 27 typhoons during the period 2000-2003, the number ominously increased to 39 from 2004-2007! Is this one of the effects of global warming? I told you so, Al Gore might be saying! (Table 2 )
  4. But while the most number of typhoons occur in the third quarter, the strongest ones come during the last  three Ber..rrrrr months of the year. Remember Reming, Rosing and Loleng? And Sening and Anding,  among those of you who were so proud of your beepers?
  5. The strongest typhoons are not necessarily the most destructive in terms of the cost of damages incurred. The five costliest typhoons that hit us are Ruping, Rosing, Kadiang, Loleng and Milenyo. They cost us more than P40 billion in current prices.(Table 3)
  6. Sadly for our kababayang Bicolanos , the road most traveled by the destructive fury of the  strongest typhoons is the route leading to Virac, Catanduanes! Four of the five strongest that came our way from 1947 to  2006 had their highest wind speed recorded in Virac!. And they followed essentially the same directional pattern, coming from the eastern part of the country and moving northwest. (Table 4  and Figures 3a – 3e ).
  7. Coincidence or not, 9 of the 20 deadliest ( highest number of deaths) cyclones all happened in November! The deadliest of all, Uring (Thelma) which was not even a typhoon but only a tropical storm  occurred on 2-7 November 1991 that swept flash floods across parts of Leyte and Negros Occidental, but mainly in Ormoc City and left 5101 deaths (Table 5  and Figure 4)
  8. The most erratic and the longest tropical cyclone in the PAR was typhoon “Miding” (Wayne) which hit us from Aug 17 – Sept 4 1986. Miding did 2 exits and 2 entries before its final exit over the northwestern border of the PAR. Be careful then when you have a neighbor named “Miding” ! (Figure 5 ).
  9. Lucky for us, less than 50% of the tropical cyclones that entered the PAR actually landed/crossed. Imagine the damage if all of them landed? (Table 6)
  10. Menacingly, the typhoons are getting stronger and stronger, especially since the 90s. From 1947 to 1960, the strongest typhoon to hit us was Amy in December 1951 with a highest wind speed recorded at 240 kph in Cebu. From 1961 to 1980, Sening (Joan) was the record holder with a highest wind speed of 275  kph recorded in Virac in October 1970. During the next twenty years, the highest wind speed was recorded by Anding (Irma) and Rosing (Angela) at 260 kph in Daet (November 1981) and in Virac (Oct-Nov 1995), respectively. In the current millennium, the highest wind speed has soared to 320 kph recorded by Reming (Durian) in Nov-Dec. 2006 in Virac (Table 7 and Figure 6). In fact, typhoon signal no. 4 is a fairly recent category!  If this is due to climate change, we better be prepared for even stronger ones in the future! What have we done to our Mother Nature? Take heed, ye sinners! Time to beg forgiveness from wife, husband,  co-workers!
  11. Looking at rainfall data for the period 1993-2003 from 8 sampling stations   the pattern for Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Manila and Iloilo is basically the same with July being the wettest month. Mactan, Zamboanga City and Davao City follow a similar pattern and on the average, the wettest month is August for Zamboanga, but October for Mactan and Davao. However, the situation in Albay is very different with December being the wettest month, followed by November and January. The wettest areas during the period covered are those under the Albay and Pangasinan sampling stations with the heaviest average monthly  rainfall recorded at 669.9 millimeters in Albay for December followed by 610.5 millimeters in Pangasinan for July. (Table 8  and Figure 7)

After reading a draft of this article, a friend made two suggestions to solve some of our national problems: (1) to lessen the congestion of recidivists at the Bilibid Prison, build one for them in Virac and (2) to reduce the cost of legislation, transfer congress to Catanduanes and require 100% attendance or else they lose their pork.

Quite naughty! More seriously, however, these statistics may mean the following ( I am not a weather expert):

  1. There had been proposals in the past which either had fallen on deaf ears or no one had mustered enough political will to do something about but really,  DepEd should consider opening classes in  October so that our poor schoolchildren will be saved from the typhoon  and wet months of July, August and September (And serendipitously, this may yet prove to be an effective population management strategy as the parents will be forced to play with their children instead of with themselves during the those rainy days and nights! Population Commission, don’t you think so?)
  2. If the school opening is changed, businesses catering to summer holidays may have to shift to other types of business. Conversely, opportunities will open up to business-minded men and women targeting as clients students who will be out of school in July, August and September.
  3. People should not leave the house without raincoats/umbrellas in July, August and September. And during these months, hawkers should be selling raincoats and umbrellas in addition to Fish balls, Maxx, Kwek-kwek at  Mani.
  4. Boat captains and Sulpicio Lines should be very very careful in deciding to go out to sea when a typhoon is expected to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) during the last quarter. At the same time, the DOTC, the Coast Guard and other regulatory authorities should never for a moment lower their guards down. And don’t say you have not been warned!
  5. If a tropical depression/typhoon is coming from the eastern side of Luzon, moving westwards, better brace up for something big!
  6. The residents of Virac may have to consider living elsewhere.
  7. Engineers and architects will have to build stronger houses, buildings, bridges, etc. as typhoons have become stronger over the years.
  8. If one needs to take a boat in October, November or December, double, triple and quadruple check the weather. No matter how you find PAGASA predictably undependable in forecasting the weather, better believe them at least during the last quarter of the year, and maybe, just to be on the safe side, add one to the typhoon signal number that they hoist. Buy travel insurance too. And to make her truly happy when you go, how about putting in your mother-in-law as beneficiary?

Indeed, we could run our lives much better if only we learned to collect and to use statistics,! More importantly, if only we, both the government and the private sector learned to invest in statistics! How sad that the NSCB has not been allowed to hire a lot  more people so that we could provide more statistics to our people towards a knowledge-based Philippines!

By the way, do you know why in the good old days, typhoons were named after women?

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