The Long and Frantic Calm: Countdown to a Typhoon

The best kind of travel is one that allows you to dive deep into local life, to get to know not only the place but what it’s truly like to live there. My country, the Philippines, is genuinely beautiful and I hope everyone gets to come here at least once and experience the Filipino way of life. That said, I wouldn’t wish a typhoon — a regular part of life in these islands — on anyone’s holiday! (Unless you’re a storm chaser, in which case you really should be here right now.) Instead, let me just tell you what it’s like to count down to a typhoon.

Sitting as it does on the western edge of the North Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is visited by nearly 20 storms every year.
Sitting as it does on the western edge of the North Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is visited by nearly 20 storms every year.

 

  • Friday, 28 November
    *
    A friend and I are having dinner at a Korean hole-in-the-wall just a 5-minute walk away from my house. I tell her I’m going to Siargao on the 8th and invite her to come with me. “I don’t know,” she says dubiously. “They say there are two typhoons coming in the next few weeks.” I wave it off — the Philippines gets around 20 typhoons a year and it’s not time to worry until it’s time to worry. She agrees to the Siargao trip.
    *
  • Monday, 1 December
    *
    A weather disturbance that had been consolidating in the Pacific Ocean is upgraded to tropical storm status and named “Hagupit,” a Filipino word that — quite appropriately — means whiplash. Ironically, because the Philippines gives its own name to tropical storms that enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility, Hagupit is known locally by a much tamer name: Ruby.
    *
    This is also the name of the friend I had convinced to accompany me to Siargao. Weird how these things happen.

    In the Philippines, typhoons are named after people, in alphabetical order -- the first typhoon of the year is given a name that starts with A, and so on. Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) is therefore the 18th to enter the Philippines in 2014; Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was the 25th of 2013.
    In the Philippines, typhoons are named after people, in alphabetical order — the first typhoon of the year is given a name that starts with A, and so on. Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) is therefore the 18th to enter the Philippines in 2014; Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was the 25th of 2013.

    *
    Ruby (the typhoon) appears to be on a similar track to last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, with similar storm-strengthening conditions prevailing in the Pacific Ocean, and suddenly everyone sits up and takes notice. This is no longer just a typhoon.
    *

  • Tuesday, 2 December
    *
    We begin devouring weather updates. Residents of coastal areas prepare for the inevitable forced evacuation. Especially in areas that were hit the hardest by Typhoon Haiyan, people flood supermarkets to stock up on food and water. It seems, then, that we’ve learned the lessons of last year — but, my God, what a method of instruction. Still, if there are significantly less casualties and typhoon damage this year, I guess that would be one of the few good things to have come out of Typhoon Haiyan’s horrendous rampage.

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)

    *

  • Wednesday, 3 December
    *
    Typhoon Hagupit/Ruby is upgraded to supertyphoon status, which means it will be packing wind speeds of over 220 km/hr. (Different meteorological agencies have slightly different criteria.) Over the course of the next few days, it would be downgraded, upgraded, and downgraded again; its forecasted track, too, would shift ever so slightly with every official weather bulletin.
    *
    “I doubt you’ll be able to go to Siargao,” my father tells me but I hold out hope. Landfall is initially estimated to occur on the morning of the 6th, exit on the evening of the 7th. Siargao might yet happen.
    *
    In the meantime, government agencies and non-governmental organizations step up preparations for emergency aid and relief. Supplies are sent to strategic staging posts. Stern warnings are issued to prevent last year’s widespread looting — hopefully. People do stupid things when they’re desperate.
    *
    The typhoon enters the Philippine Area of Responsibility.

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)

    *

  • Thursday, 4 December
    *
    Evacuations of coastal areas continue. Classes for the next day are suspended, as is work in most public offices, with the exception of those that will be involved in disaster response. Even in homes that are far from the coast, people are trying to get ready for the typhoon. Roofs are hurriedly repaired. Lightweight structures are tied to something more stable. Trees are trimmed to prevent weak branches from flying off with the onslaught of wind and rain.

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)

    *

  • Friday, 5 December
    *
    It is ironically hot and sunny. Landfall is still 24-48 hours away but Cebu is already under storm signal #2, and flights for the day have been cancelled, to the frustration of travelers looking out their windows and seeing the clear sky. The adrenaline of the last few days is starting to wear off too. Ruby (Hagupit) almost seems to be dawdling. The good news is that its wind speeds have gone down a bit; the bad news is that it’s moving at a measly 10 km/hr. (A slow-moving typhoon is a bad thing because it will have more time to cause destruction in the places along its path — more wind, more rain, more chances of flooding and more time for objects to pry loose and fly.) It also seems to have shifted course northwards, possibly hitting the capital, Manila. Good news for us in the central Philippines; bad news for those places that were previously not very likely to be hit by the typhoon and may not have been able to prepare as much as we have.

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) - 05 December 2014, 1100h update
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – 05 December 2014, 1100h update

    *
    People are weary and anxious and, in a way, just wanting to get it over with. Then again, the longer wait means more time to prepare. For some families, a delay of a couple of hours between forecasted and actual typhoon arrival could spell the difference between life and death. So we continue to prepare. Water and electricity are almost always cut off during strong typhoons so we start storing water and charging our devices.
    *
    “I don’t think we’ll get to go to Siargao,” I tell Ruby (the person).

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) - 05 December 2014, 2300h update
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – 05 December 2014, 2300h update

    *

  • Saturday, 6 December
    *
    Cloudy skies greet me when I wake up. One of the first things I do is open my computer and check the weather bureau’s Facebook page for updates.

    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) - 06 December 2014, 1100h update
    Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – 06 December 2014, 1100h update

    I check it several times in an hour. Landfall was forecasted for Sunday morning based on the 10 km/hr speed, but during the day Ruby (the typhoon) picks up speed. By midday it is moving at 16 km/hr and forecasted landfall is moved up to Saturday night. My father finishes last-minute preparations around the house early afternoon. We hear anticipated Mass at 6 PM.

    As of 8 PM. Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
    As of 8 PM. Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

    *

    • 9:15 PM
      Landfall in Eastern Samar.
      *
    • 11 PM
      The winds where I am are getting stronger. Open doors are slammed shut; branches of plants rap against the walls of the house repeatedly. It’s a little scary. I never used to be afraid of typhoons but Haiyan last year was a game-changer. I’ve kept a flashlight nearby, in case the power suddenly goes out. I should sleep but it seems better to welcome this storm with eyes open.
      *
  • Sunday, 7 December
    *

    • 1 AM
      The winds seem to have quieted; the rain is steady but slow. It’s nice to think that was the worst of the typhoon but I don’t think so. The winds and rain will probably regain strength later. For now, we’re okay. I think I’ll get some rest.
      *
    • 8 AM
      The worst seems to be over, at least for our part of the Philippines. It is still raining moderately, with occasional gusts of strong wind, but not more than that, thank God. Other areas are experiencing flooding and there have been unconfirmed reports of some casualties (less than 10), but this aftermath is definitely much, much better than last year’s. We’re still expecting some wind and rain, and the typhoon will probably stay in the Philippine Area of Responsibility until Wednesday morning, but it could have been so much worse and it isn’t.

      Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) - 07 December 2014, 1100h update
      Source: Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) – 07 December 2014, 1100h update

*
But, no, we’re not going to Siargao.

And, no, this won’t be the last strong typhoon to visit the Philippines. While people around the world are still debating climate change, we have been told supertyphoons, especially in the later part of the year, are our new normal. I don’t care to wade into scientific, economic, and political arguments; I can only tell you what we are experiencing here, a small third-world country on the western edge of the Pacific. I used to look forward to the slight chill in the early morning air come December but that hasn’t happened in the last few years. Instead, we often get hot and humid weather — perfect food for a typhoon. That’s just something we have to accept and prepare for as best we can.

A puddle outside our house this morning (12/7/2014)
A puddle outside our house this morning (12/7/2014)

*
The Long and Frantic Calm: Countdown to a Typhoon” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 


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