(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.
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