By Raïssa Robles
Hurricane Sandy is like our Typhoon Signal Number 3, according to Renito Paciente, officer-in-charge of Pagasa’s marine meteorological services section.
He explained to me that Hurricane Sandy has sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph (miles per hour). In the metric system which we use, this would be equivalent to 119 to 153 kilometers per hour (kph).
In the US, Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane, but if something similar to Sandy were to batter Philippine shores, Pagasa would raise Signal No. 3, defined as “Tropical cyclone winds of 100 kmh (62 mph) to 185 kmh (115 mph) expected within the next 18 hours.”
I became curious at how powerful Sandy really was, since the American media had taken to calling it a “Frankenstorm”. And then photos like the one below were shared online by New York City residents, looking so eerily similar to scenes in Typhoon Frank (2008), Typhoon Ondoy (2009), Typhoon Sendong (2011) and even during the torrential rains last August:
Difference between a hurricane and a typhoon
Paciente said the intensity of Sandy is similar to that of Typhoon Frank (which is just a bit stronger with sustained winds of 100 mph) and Typhoon Pedring (85 mph).
But he added that we have been battered by far stronger typhoons such as Loleng (International codename Bab) in 1998 and Typhoon Pepeng (International Code Name Parma) in 2008, both with sustained winds of 120 mph (190 kmh).
Compared to our Typhoon Loleng and Pepeng, however, Typhoon Katrina which devastated the US in 2005 started out as an even stronger storm. It was classified as a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kmh) and then downgraded to Category 3 when it hit Louisiana and Mississippi.
It was also my chance to ask Paciente why these natural phenomena had different names. Paciente explained to me that there are three “basins’ in which they are formed. When these are formed in the Atlantic Ocean or basin, they are called HURRICANES. When these are formed in the Indian Ocean, they are referred to as CYCLONES. And when formed in the Pacific Ocean, they are known as TYPHOONS.
I asked him to explain to me what I had read in the Seattle Times about the origin of Sandy – that it formed initially somewhere near the Caribbean. I asked Paciente to explain the relation between the temperature of the sea to the formation of Sandy because Seattle Times said:
One reason Sandy may have stayed tropical so long was the unusually warm waters of the Gulf Stream, a river of warm water that flows from the Caribbean up into the North Atlantic. It was 5 to 9 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. And as a tropical system, Sandy fed on those warm waters and kept traveling north, Masters said. That could account for the last-minute boost in speed, too, that Sandy had as it neared shore, accelerating to 28 mph.
Paciente explained to me that in our part of the world – sa atin 26 degrees celsius or more ang sea surface temperature sa Pacific para bumuo ng typhoon.
No wonder the rise in deadly storms has been blamed on the rise of sea temperature which in turn has been blamed on climate change, I told him. Paciente added that it is not just the temperature at sea that helps bring about storms, but also the temperature of our surroundings and in fact the “earth temperature.”
There will inevitably be scientists on opposing sides who will make or break the connection between Sandy and climate change. Former President George W. Bush had refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol that would force the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions according to a set timetable. Bush said it would cost the US economy too much.
Sandy is about to cost the US billions of dollars. Still, the jury will continue to be out on whether Sandy will make the US think long and hard about seriously taking up measures to reduce greenhouse gases.
In closing, I want to quote the lead paragraph of the Seattle Times news story. It said:
Hurricane Sandy seems straight out of the latest Hollywood apocalyptic blockbuster.
If Sandy is indeed apocalyptic, what does it say about the Philippine situation. We not only regularly have storms like Sandy, once in awhile we have stronger ones. On top of that we have earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
But we do have lovely islands formed eons ago by the violence of the earth. We have in short a Garden of Paradise in Hell.
Life is really more fun in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, to my kababayans living along the path of Sandy, take care.
Back here, Paciente said the Philippines has five more storms coming before yearend of varying intensity. He said the weather bureau has no way of predicting any of them might be like Sandy.
On the average, the Philippines has 20 storms a year. In comparison, the Atlantic Coast of the US has been affected by as many as 16 storms of varying intensity a year, striking between June and end-November.