Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PAGASA Bureaucracy 2: Deregulate Weather Forecasting, Privatize PAGASA

Last July 23, 2010, I wrote this:

(This is my article for "People's Brigada News" weekend tabloid, http://peoplesbrigadanews.com/wpress/index.php)

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is the monopoly weather forecasting body in this country. Among its catastrophic forecasts were those of super-typhoons “Ondoy” (international name “Ketsana”) and “Pepeng” (“Parma”) last year, and typhoon “Basyang” (“Conson”) middle of this month.

In other cases though, PAGASA would exaggerate its forecast, forcing the public and the local governments to make over-cautious preparations, like suspending inter-island shipping and plane flights, only to see mild rains and wind.

When I got married several years ago in Iloilo, my siblings and cousins from Negros Occidental were not able to attend. The Coast Guard did not allow inter-island travel between Bacolod and Iloilo (just one hour by boat) because PAGASA said storm signal no. 2 was up in that region, even when it was sunny and the wind has pacified.

Weather forecasting need not be an exclusive function of the government. The scientific and technical know-how to gather data and interpret them can be done by private enterprises. Private corporations now have capacities to send their own satellites into space to provide telecommunications and other services to the public.

Government weather forecasting bodies like PAGASA do not get penalized for their catastrophic failures in doing their job. No one was fired in PAGASA, its budget was never cut, and each failure in weather forecasting is even used as additional excuse to demand more tax money to further “improve” the agency.

Private weather forecasting enterprises though, will get heavy penalty if they make bad forecasts consistently. There is no tax money to put them up, no tax money to bail them out if they are constantly inefficient. They are under pressure to provide the most accurate, the most updated, hour by hour monitoring, of severe weather disturbances, for their clients.

Weather forecasting in the country should be deregulated and private companies should be allowed and encouraged to enter the market. PAGASA can either be privatized, or be subjected to certain penalties like firing its key officials and shrinking its budget the next year, if it remains a lousy agency. Persistent lousiness and persistent reduction of its budget should ultimately result in its abolition or privatization.

A friend wrote a good post in his blog, “Privatize PAGASA or open weather forecasting to competition”, http://prudentinvestornewsletters.blogspot.com/2010/07/privatize-pag-asa-or-open-weather.html

In the US, there are 5 (or more?) private weather forecasting companies which are somehow making money and getting lots of private subscribers. These are:
1. AccuWeather, www.accuweather.com
2. CustomWeather, www.customweather.com
3. The Weather Channel, www.weather.com4
4. DTN Meteorlogix, www.telvent.com
5. Forecast Advisor, www.forecastadvisor.com

I do not know if there are other private forecasting companies there. The US government's forecasting agency is National Weather Service (under the NOAA), www.nws.noaa.gov.

In UK, I do not know how many private weather forecasting companies there are, on top of the UK government's Met Office (www.metoffice.gov.uk), but I know one, the Weather Action (www.weatheraction.com) headed by a British solar physicist, Piers Corbyn. Piers uses what he calls the Solar Weather Technique (SWT) in predicting both short- and long-term weather and climate patterns.

I'd like to see the presence of private forecasting companies in the Philippines.
Someone who gives its subscribers -- airlines, shipping lines, bus lines, tv channels, radio stations, resorts and hotels, agribusiness companies, various government agencies (Air Transportation Office, MARINA, Coast Guard, Department of Agriculture, etc.) -- hour by hour updates, not every 12 hours like what PAGASA is doing.

The business is very simple: if the subscribers are not happy with the kind of forecasts being given to them, they unsubscribe or stop paying for the services, the weather forecasting company loses clients, it goes bankrupt later. Zero tax money involved in setting it up, no tax money needed to bail it out. So the only guarantee that such company will survive and prosper, is to make its forecasts as accurate as possible. Or to inform its subscribers of changes in forecasts every hour, or every 30 minutes as extreme weather events like super-typhoons come.

Just today, PAGASA said people should bring an umbrella becAUSE of the rains in the afternoon due to the inter-tropical converging zone (ITCZ) and a low-pressure area (LPA) west of Ilocos Sur. It's almost 4pm now as I write this, no rains, it's cloudy, yes, but sunlight penetrates through the cloud.

Yesterday, PAGASA did not give advisory to "bring umbrella", and lots of major roads in Metro Manila was submerged with floods due to heavy rains.

Does PAGASA lose even a single peso in terms of budget cut when it gives consistent lousy forecasting? Not a bit.

The officials there always like to picture themselves as poor or "kawawa", that they have no modern equipment, that their good staff are being pirated elsewhere, etc. With the money thrown at PAGASA all those years, after all those heavy typhoons and numerous deaths to people and damage to properties, the important equipment are with them already. What they need are bright guys who can interpret those raw data more ntelligently.

Or better, what they need are enough rewards and punishment. Say for every 50 typhoons and LPAs, a batting average of 60% or more of wrong forecasts, PAGASA director should go, no explanation to be accepted whatsoever. And for batting average of say, 60% or more of correct forecasts, the director and staff gets some incentive bonus.

December 20, 2011

With the PAGASA inefficiency in not alerting the people in Mindanao early enough of the severity of typhoon Washi ("Sendong" local name), the prospect of privatizing it has resurfaced. Below are some exchanges in the facebook wall of my friend, Joey Sescon, who grew up and studied in Iligan City, one of the most badly-hit areas in Mindanao.

  • Nonoy Oplas yep, i heard the mayor of Iligan on radio, he said that the rains in the city was manageable for the residents, it was the flood water from the mountains that really swept them.

  • Jt Sescon 

    Pre Noy, how ironic that these 'flood water from the mountains' was the same caused of the flood in 1973 in Iligan and the same in 1980s or 90s. Last Friday the track of Sendong showed it will travel via the highlands and therefore the two port cities with their rivers had to expect the worst. I should have burned the lines myself early evening that Friday. I was only warning my families that they will be shocked by the storm.

  • Franklin Glenn  pagasa is a useless agency. Let's just request for it's abolition. I read their bulletins with jaded eyes. I look on the other forecasts from japan, hongkong, china, and the us navy and then form my own judgment on a typhoon's track.

    • Jt Sescon 

      Glenn, I promised that my 'accusatory stance' ends last night so I will just post well meant comments. The SOP right now is that Preemptive evacuation is left to local authorities "if the situation warrants". How local disaster centers interpret "situation warrants" is everybody's guess. Pnoy has asked for a review and comprehensive report. I hope, that they will answer the question, "When and how to implement preemptive evacuation using the hazard maps already available?" My suggestion is during typhoons, irrespective of the signal, they are routine.

    • Nonoy Oplas 

      Hi Franklin Glenn, I think a better option is to privatize PAGASA. The US has many private weather forecasting companies competing with each other, sometimes giving more accurate predictions than NOAA or other US govt meteorological agencies.
      Jt, LGUs get their clues from PAGASA and NDRRMC. If these 2 agencies are inefficient (if not idiots) on certain instances, the LGUs have little or no alternatives. In the case of typhoon Washi aka Sendong, it's existence has been seen 1 week before landfall. Its direction is monitored daily, even hourly, by independent typhoon observers, and that typhoon almost followed its direction without change, the amount of rain, its diameter, speed and estimated date and time of landfall, was known many days ahead, then NDRRMC and PAGASA expressed "caught by surprise"?  

      • Jt Sescon 

        Nonoy Oplas, I have no objection to privatization of weather, typhoon and flood hazard warning and forecasting. We may have to pay for its real price given public scrutiny, accountability, and future impending lawsuits the private operator faces, but may be worth the high price to save lives. I can imagine how 'relentless' the private operator will be in issuing warnings and bulletins to every concern person egging to move their butts out since each failure and tragedy translate to 'loss profits' other than loss reputation.

        2 hours ago ·  ·  1

      • Franklin Glenn hi nonoy and joey, agree ako sa privatization. o kaya, we better subcontract weather forecasting na lang. since may technical assistance grant from Japan and US, we may utilize their (Japan and US) forecasting services for free.
        2 hours ago · 

      • Franklin Glenn was listening to their forecasts last week, naka focus yung forecast nila sa Palawan and Roxas City. it was not even mentioned kung saan yung path nung storm. one get's the impression that the storm was formed somewhere in the Sulu Sea.

      • Nonoy Oplas 

        A private weather forecasting company would have thousands of eager subscribers: airlines, shipping lines, hotels and resorts, bus lines, agribusinesses, LGUs, radio and tv stations, etc. What's more, private agencies have long-term outlook independent from UN and other govt perspectives. LIke will be cooler or warmer in the next 5, 10, 50 years? Such technology are widely available now especially with the incorporation of solar physics in climate research. 

        • Jt Sescon Right pareng Noy, a private weather forecaster company have an enormous string of clients who will buy its services. I even think that the company can 'cross' profits by subsidizing (lower price) services to LGUs. Anyway the 'threat of entry' is always there in this kind of service (its technology) thus even monopoly price will be competitive.

        • Nonoy Oplas I know of one solar physicist in London, Piers Corbyn, he has his own private weather forecasting company, he often beats the UK Met in predicting UK's weather 3 months, 1 year ahead. He uses Solar Weather Technique (SWT), he gets many subscribers. 

          • There is the US govt's NOAA, other agencies; some states may have their own weather forecasting agency too. But those private firms are able to survive if not prosper, because they really provide up to date, hour by hour info to their clients and their clients can plan their businesses better.

          • Nonoy Oplas I forgot, there is also a famous new outfit, http://
www.weatherbell.com/ and it has two great forecasters, Joe Bastardi and Joe d Aleo. The same principle as any private firm: You make lousy service, you lose clients, lose your shirts. So you cannot afford to be inefficient and lousy, unlike PAGASA

  • Jt Sescon Yes, pareng Noy it can be done here. It is demonstrated clearly by one individual blogger site typhoonk.com. How much more if the guy can buy more satellite data (the ones for sale other than those free) or that he sets up his private company. I can see that the financials (cost, revenues, profits) will take care of this kind of entrepreneurship.  

    • Jt Sescon If I may add a word to weather experts, climatologists, hobbyists, I propose enough critiquing, but set up your private companies as there are enough niche 'weather forecasting' demand out there. It is also good positioning, eventually to bid and get contracts as suppliers of private and government needs. At this time, I will say, "let the markets be!".

      * See also: 
      PAGASA Bureaucracy 1: On Temperature Data, July 14, 2011

  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Sir noy, thanks for your blog. Sir meron po bang website na pwede mag-explain sa post ng PAG-ASA, about sa mga kulay2 na galing sa weather satellite?