19 October 2010

Juan Will Bring Out the Best in Us!

Weather pundits have been saying since April or May that the El Niño – the warming of the waters of the Eastern Pacific that has been found to disrupt weather patterns the world over – has faded and was expected to be replaced by its opposite, the Ñiña. I am but a self-confessed strictly amateur weather aficionado, but reading between the lines, my conclusion was that the pundits were trying to insinuate that the rainy season would be rainier than usual.

But June turned to July, and July to August; and what should have been the peak months of rainfall and weather systems turned out to be disturbingly mild. One just sort of wondered if something was cooking. You know… Not unlike when a normally hyperactive child suddenly turns quiet and pensive, one just instinctively wonders what mischief he is cooking up in his head.

I wrote earlier in this blog, in a story entitled Insignificant, how this profound and largely mystifying force we simply refer to as Nature has this effortless ability when it so fancies to make us humans prostrate ourselves in utter surrender. I was then recalling the emotions that played inside my head as I watched with horror as the earth undulated in front of me during that unforgettable earthquake of June 1990.

The other week, I checked this weather web site not yet knowing that this disorganized but tell-tale circular band of clouds in the South Pacific – where tropical disturbances that spin into the country are spawned – would become a monster that would wreak havoc up north. The web site, alarmingly, predicted that the band of clouds had a 50% probability of becoming a major disturbance.

Within a few days, it had become a tropical depression and given an international codename: Megi. Soon it was a tropical storm; and in a couple more days a typhoon. I was worried; a typhoon still way out in open oceans has all the time in the world to work itself up into a state of utter frenzy. That is always bad news for those on land that it decides to visit.

Significantly, all six of the tracking maps I monitor when typhoons are under way showed Megi taking a west-northwest path to the north of the Philippines. If it was June or July, the typhoon would probably have continued on its WNW to threaten Taiwan or Mainland China or even Japan if conditions are right for a swerve to the east.

But this is October; all six tracks also showed Megi tracking west-southwest at a certain point to make landfall over extreme northern Luzon. Frankly, it is these end-of-year typhoons that worry me the most because not only do they tend to be quite significant in terms of energy, they also are the ones that tend to wander closer to where we are here in Batangas.

When Megi entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility, it was given the local codename Juan. As it neared the country, it had become this fearsome circulating mass of water and winds which at one point gusted in excess of 300 kilometers per hour. Jesus! That simply was… cataclysmic!

Signal Number Four – how often do we see that raised by PAGASA? The name Juan, it conjures images of a homey old-fashioned gentleman who cannot possibly hurt a fly. But this Juan was, at one point, a certifiable Category 5 howler!

I shuddered to even think of what it would be like to get caught right smack in the middle of it! I was in my office yesterday afternoon – and Juan had already made landfall – when I decided to search the web for any videos available that would depict its impact. I chanced upon this short clip of a tricycle that was being tossed around by the gusts of wind as though it was made of plastic. The clip made me cringe inside!

Something like this typhoon, it just tears the hearts of citizens like you and I. On the one hand, we are thankful that it tracks too far north to affect us significantly; albeit, we all know we are getting spared THIS time. On the other hand, one also fears for one’s countrymen who are completely at a loss for options and have no recourse but to stay put and suffer Nature’s fury.

Last night, I was irritated when a government official interviewed on TV said something about a couple of casualties having been killed not really directly because of the typhoon. One was a woman who was crushed when a tree fell onto her home; and another was a man who slipped and fell into a raging river. Huh? Did I miss something? That was not directly because of Juan?

I was in Manila today attending a day-long course. It was rainy but the weather was not adverse. Whenever there was a respite, I would look out the window from the tall building we were in to see if Juan was really gone for good after leaving behind what I was certain was a trail of destruction.

I got home in time to catch TV Patrol, and the video clips I saw were simply of the heart-wrenching variety: whole villages leveled; citizens wading through floodwaters to find out what had happened to their homes; or men and women putting up brave faces for the TV cameras after having lost homes and possessions acquired through lifetimes of tireless grind.

The whole nation is still coming to terms with the destruction Juan left behind; and I am sure there will be more bad news in the coming days as losses in terms of lives and properties are fully accounted for.

But hey, as sure as I live and breathe, there will also be good news! Whenever tragedies such as this super-typhoon occur, that is when the golden heart of the Filipino people shows its face for the whole world to see. You can count on it! As early as tomorrow, the compassion from those who got spared this time will start to flow and provide solace to those who bore the brunt of typhoon’s fury.

Partly, it is because none of us know when our turn will come. And partly also because when push comes to shove, the truth of the matter is that we Filipinos, we do know how to take care of our own.

We just do not do it all the time…

[Thanks to PAGASA for the satellite photograph.]





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