Friday, August 6, 2010

The “Lola Basyang” of Weather Reporting: Social Networking Sites, Mobile Applications & Text Messaging, Not the Weather Bureau

In the aftermath of typhoon “Basyang”, the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) aired last July 20, 2010, “Tracking the Typhoons” in its show, “Media In Focus”, which was anchored by Tony Velasquez and guested by Dr. Prisco Nilo (then director of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)), Kim Atienza (ABS-CBN’s resident weather anchor), and Jeff Canoy (ABS-CBN field reporter).

On Tony’s allusion to President Benigno Aquino III’s disappointment over the inaccurate forecasts of PAGASA before and during the ravaging of typhoon “Basyang”, because of which the President supposedly said that PAGASA should “upgrade its equipment – if it’s a matter of equipment” – Prisco confessed that the country has only two recently upgraded Doppler Radars, with another eight yet to be installed, several of which are to be funded by the Japanese government. Doppler Radars are the equipment used in meteorology to examine the motion of precipitation. (Wikipedia. The situation is, if I may say, pitiable, since in the United States there are about two or three Doppler Radars in every state, according to Kim, which permits the Central News Network (CNN) to show off with its visually engaging weather reports (and mainly because of the screen projections, not the segment reporter).

Tony: “Sa ngayon po, equipment should play a very big role in your work, right?”

Pricso: “Yeah, uhm… one of the basic equipment that we have not yet upgraded in PAGASA is our telecommunications system. It’s very critical for the broadcasting center to collect all the data from our field observing stations to the broadcasting center on time…”

Tony: “Because if you don’t get it on time and you don’t get to pass it on to the media, the media also can’t help the public what to expect.”

Prisco: “Yeah, that’s correct…”

And perhaps that is the reason why, in another part of the interview, Kim and Jeff revealed that apart from PAGASA reports, they seek recourse to their own journalistic senses and devises in order to gather newsworthy information about the weather – such as something called “Weatherbug” and surprisingly – Facebook posts, “tweets”, and text messages from friends. “Weatherbug” is a program that is downloadable from the WeatherBug company’s website onto one’s iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone, and other mobile devices. (Wikipedia. See this: Cabucgayan, Philippines weather and forecast information on Cabucgayan, by the way, is a fifth class municipality in the little-known Province of Biliran. I'm quite amused that Weatherbug has specific weather forecasts for it.

On a last note, Prisco, incidentally, was just removed as PAGASA chief. Said the report: “Nilo’s removal came three weeks after (President) Aquino reprimanded PAGASA for failing to predict that typhoon Basyang would ravage Metro Manila. Aquino said Nilo ‘never really bothered to explain’ why typhoon Basyang moved in a different direction.” (GMANews.TV. With all due respect, the President's direction, like "Basyang" was inexplicable; he should have fired the equipment, not the chief of the weather bureau.

Raul Sy Grapilon

Entry No. 7

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