PAGASA to establish a new warning system for rainstorms

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is drafting a new rainfall alert system in Metro Manila to prepare communities of possible disasters brought by monsoon rains.    Nathaniel Servando, PAGASA's administrator, said the alert system, which will be modelled after Hong Kong Observatory's three-level rainstorm alert system, is expected to be tested before June, when the monsoon season starts.    He noted that this is important as downpours from monsoon rains, wind convergence zones, and low pressure areas have caused devastation in large parts of the country.    "We have experienced strong rains even if there is no typhoon," the PAGASA chief said.    'Laymanizing' the warning system   Officials said that having a separate alert system for rainstorms was one of the topics discussed with President Aquino at a recent meeting of the Cabinet Cluster for Climate Change.    Sources said the President was concerned that the present rainfall  notification embedded with the storm signal warning is insufficient and too technical for laymen.    Servando said the warning scheme for rains is different from the storm public signal warning system that PAGASA disemminates for tropical cyclones.    The storm warning systems is primarily based on wind strength. The rainfall warning, on the other hand, will be based on the amount of water that the clouds are carrying, PAGASA officials said.    The alert system will notify the public if the looming rains will be light, moderate, or heavy, Servando said.    The rainfall alert information  would also mention the probability of precipitation, possible hazards, areas affected, and estimated amount of rain in the next few hours.   Inspired by Hong Kong's system   Dr. Flaviana Hilario, PAGASA's research chief, said the agency has yet to decide on the alert scheme. Hong Kong's rainstorm warning, she noted, uses a color-coded system: namely amber, red, and black.    According to the Hong Kong Observatory's website, an amber alert signals potential heavy rain. The red and black signals are issued if officials expect that the rains would bring serious road flooding and traffic congestion.   The Philippines, Hilario said, could use a number system, although this has yet to be finalized.    Better use of social media   Servando said PAGASA would launch a massive information dissemination campaign to educate the public on the alert levels once this is finalized.    He noted that PAGASA would have to be more aggressive in the use of social media to spread information about the weather.    The agency recently received flak for its alleged failure to warn the local governments of Mindanao of the devastation of TRopical Storm Sendong.    The storm, which hit northern Mindanao and was carrying a maximum of 25 mm of rains per hour, wiped out towns in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, which were unprepared to respond to the rains. — TJD, GMA News