13 July 2015

Local Governments, Monsoons and the Suspension of Classes

Monsoons are exacerbated by poor urban infrastructures and the lack of mass transport.

The protocols laid down by the current government pertinent to the suspension of classes for weather-related reasons are arguably better than they used to be. The onus in decision making, i.e. to suspend or not to suspend, is now in the hands of local government.

This makes a lot of sense because although PAGASA releases periodic forecasts, by and large weather is a localised issue and it is not uncommon for local conditions to be not quite what PAGASA’s generalised forecasts say they will be.

Sometimes, however, there rather tends to be a chasm between good intentions and execution, as seemed to be the case in Lipa and probably most of Batangas the two days classes were suspended last week on account of forecasted monsoon rains.

For instance, consider the graphic below from MSN weather, taken in the morning of Friday the 10th of July. The time stamp indicates the atmospheric conditions regarding precipitation or rain the night before.

MSN Weather Precipitation Map.

Green shows 3 millimetres of rain per hour, the sort that likely fell on Metro Manila and neighbouring provinces and the reason why the evening news programs on Thursday and Friday were predominantly about weather related incidents in the metropolis.

However, over and approaching Batangas were monsoon clouds coloured mostly yellow, or those carrying from 0.1 to 2 millimetres of rain. Thus, those of you living in Lipa will agree with me that while there were occasional bursts of heavy rains, these were basically intermittent throughout Thursday and Friday when classes were suspended for all levels.

Most of the time, the rains fell in drizzles; and these aside, the weather was actually remarkably pleasant especially for Lipa where we are elevated and conditions were agreeably cool. Prior to the Aquino administration, it would have been business as usual for all schools around the province of Batangas.

This brings us around to the question why classes are suspended on account of the weather in the first place. There is never any question when there are tropical cyclone warning signals in place. The signals warn of possible danger to life and property on account of winds and rains.

The monsoons will come as sure as the sun will rise in the east.

It gets trickier with the monsoon rains as obviously winds will not be a factor. However, as shown in recent years, prolonged monsoon rains can be as damaging to life and property as a tropical cyclone.

Thus, any cancellation of classes on account of the monsoon has to be premised on the assumption that the rains will pose a threat to life and property. Because water is the main element, then areas susceptible to floods and landslides ought to be top priority for the cancellation of classes if the expected rains are heavy enough to cause these.

In Metro Manila, the monsoons are exacerbated by poor urban infrastructures and the absence of a reliable mass transport system. Otherwise, even the rains that fell last week ought not to have been reason enough for the suspension of classes.

After all, we are in the tropics; and as sure as the sun will rise in the east every morning, the monsoons will come every year.

Here in Batangas, the quickness with which local governments suspended classes in anticipation of monsoon rains was commendable. This dealt with the most common complaint in the old days of getting up early to make an effort to go to school only to find once there that classes had been called off.

In hindsight, however, the prevailing conditions last week when classes were actually suspended exposed a weakness in the current protocol. The way with which LGUs suspended classes one after the other seemed to have been something of a bandwagon effect; and seemed more politically motivated than based on available scientific weather data.

The current protocol is already an improvement on the previous one. However, it will not harm the interests of the national government to mandate the appointment of weather officers in every LGU who will train under the tutelage of PAGASA and who will be tasked with making recommendations about the suspension of classes.

The truth is, anyone with an Internet connection and some understanding of the weather can reasonably forecast what weather conditions will be like the next day. One does not even have to be reliant on PAGASA whose servers are often unreliable.

There are so many tools available online that can be used in making informed rather than fearful or political decisions regarding the suspension of classes. What LGUs need are people who will be able to understand them.




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