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About the weather and other thoughts this weekend

We interrupt our regular posts with an article on the current state of the weather and some thoughts while a super typhoon (Mangkut) was devastating the northern and central Philippines. First the article from Wired:

Rogers, A. (2018) An Equator Full of Hurricanes Shows a Preview of End Times, http://www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/an-equator-full-of-hurricanes-shows-a-preview-of-end-times/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_091418_daily_list1_p4 [Last accessed: 9/15/2018]

I am not into doomsday articles and thinking but am always fascinated by it if has foundations in science and fact rather than of religion or the “prepper” type of thinking. This one is based on fact and should not be dismissed as “fake new” – an excuse many use if the information presented to them offers an inconvenient truth about our state of affairs or, in this case, state of the earth.

Gloomy weather brought about by Typhoon Mangkut

I was thinking about the bad weather and what previous strong typhoons have brought about early this morning as I was awaken by the sound of the strong winds and the heavy rains that followed. I easily come awake and cannot sleep whenever we have inclement weather. Its been like this since my childhood as our home was in a flood prone area.

The last times there were typhoons comparable in perceived and actual physical impacts, the socio-political impacts also eventually manifested. Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in 2009 dumped record rainfall across a wide area that included Metro Manila, Central Luzon (Region 3) and Southern Luzon (Region 4A). The government’s response then and the issues that came about afterwards essentially contributed much to the doom for many of the administration’s candidates in the 2010 elections including its standard bearer who was Defense Secretary at the time. The follies of many politicians and government agencies were also exposed and most people judged them for that in the elections.

Come 2013, another typhoon, Haiyan (Yolanda), laid waste to much of the central Philippines. It was a super typhoon that again caught most, especially government, unprepared for the devastation that was its outcome. It spelled disaster, too, to many political aspirations with the then Interior Secretary becoming the poster boy somewhat for the government’s failures. Apparently, many of the lessons of Ondoy were not heeded despite gains here and there in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness. But then these were perceived to be more on the side of politicians. There were no lack in politicking, self promotion and grandstanding. And there was even more drama among rival sides in Philippine politics. There was enough material for fodder come 2016.

The current administration is much aware of the issues and the dangers of playing into the same script. After all, they created much of the political storm that led to an almost complete defeat of the previous admin’s ticket (the current VP survived that and hopefully gets to finish her term instead of being replaced by the ambitious son of a former dictator). But the present set of leaders and wannabees are not lacking for distasteful maneuvers as relief goods are being prepared by government agencies and local government units bearing the name (and sometimes even face) of aspirants for electoral posts in the 2019 elections. Among these are a Presidential “alalay” who is somewhat desperate for a senate post if only to protect himself from charges once his sponsor(s) bow down from power.

Will Mangkut/Ompong effect positive change in the country? Perhaps so and we can only hope it will be for the better. And that we, as a people, learn from mistakes we have made including electing certain people who are not fit or qualified to lead us.

What if Ondoy happened today?

With the news of the devastation of Houston by Hurricane Harvey comes articles about transportation in that city. An interesting articles is this one:

Davies, A. (2017) “Hurricane Harvey Destroys Up to a Million Cars in Car-Dependent Houston“. Wired.com.  September 3, 2017. https://www.wired.com/story/harvey-houston-cars-ruined?mbid=nl_090317_daily&CNDID=%%CUST_ID%% (Last accessed 9/4/2017).

The article reminded me of a very personal experience back in 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) submerged much of Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces in what was believed to be at least 100-year floods. Greater Metro Manila or Mega Manila is not too dependent on private cars for transportation with an estimated 70% of trips taking public transport (about 30% use private vehicles including motorcycles and taxis). Much of this public transportation, however, is road-based and so the floods did much to affect transportation in the area for the weeks after Ondoy. Car-owners rebounded quite quickly and car sales surged afterwards with many people purchasing SUVs in response to the likelihood of floods.

But what if Ondoy happened today? What if people were as unprepared as in 2009? Perhaps the damage would have been even greater than back in 2009. Mega Manila has become more dependent on cars since then with the current estimates of private vehicle mode shares at around 35%. The increase includes not only taxis and motorcycles, which have enjoyed steep increases in the past decade, but also ridesharing services (i.e., Uber and Grab).

Uber and Grab vehicles are predominantly comprised of vehicles purchased for the main purpose of being driven for income instead of the original concept of ridesharing where the vehicles are already owned and operated only during the free times of their owners (i.e., they provide services only on a part-time basis). Their proliferation and popularity means a lot more vehicles could have been damaged by Ondoy and that the owners of these vehicles likely would not have recovered from the loss even despite their auto insurance coverages.

Metro Manila and other Philippine cities under the threat of similar severe weather systems such as typhoons should build resilient transportation systems. Not surprisingly, among the more resilient modes of transport are non-motorized such as walking and cycling. Pedicabs where almost immediately back on service in Tacloban after Yolanda practically destroyed that city. But then again, an efficient public transport system is also necessary and buses and trains may provide relief from flooded cities. Maybe, a proposed subway system can also contribute if it includes the construction of subterranean drainage systems similar to that of Tokyo’s. These are not easy to develop or build with infrastructure costing much over the long term. However, Metro Manila needs to start building them now as these won’t get cheaper in the future.

On slippery roads again

With the onset of the wet season, expect many roads to be slippery during and after rains. As such, extra care should be exercised by travelers especially motorists. It is easy to lose control of vehicles, especially motorcycles, when speeding or undertaking risky maneuvers like overtaking, counter flowing, and tailgating. Traffic enforcement units also need to be active in accosting motorists for risky behavior that may endanger the lives of not only the vehicle occupants but of other people as well like innocent pedestrians and cyclists minding their own business.

Following are a couple of photos of an incident along Sumulong Highway after rains in the area. Apparently, only a motorcycle rider was involved in what seems to be something that would be categorized as a “self accident”. No other motorists may have been involved although I suspect it could also be a case of a “near miss” where the rider lost control after almost hitting or being hit by an errant vehicle.

On weather and traffic

With the onset of the wet season, heavy rains have reminded us how terrible commuting can be especially in Metro Manila where public transport services are much wanting in terms of quality. But whether you are driving or riding, using private or public transport, there is always something about the rains that make you feel uncomfortable. Metro Manila’s roads are becoming more and more notorious for flooding and I guess that goes the same with many other roads in other cities as well. Drainage is almost automatically blamed but closer inspection of the cause of flooding shows even the newest drainage systems being unable to accommodate rain waters in part due to their being clogged (by garbage, mud and/or other stuff) or having inferior design for intense rains. With extreme weather now becoming the norm, that is not a good thing especially with what is perceived as poor maintenance of our waterways and road drainage systems. Just look at how overpasses get flooded everytime the rain pours; causing traffic congestion that could have been averted if only we can weather-proof our roads to a certain extent.

Heavy rains Santolan

Low visibility even during the middle of the day plus slippery pavement surfaces due to heavy rains can cause congestion and lead to unsafe conditions for traveling. The latter outcome is even worse during the night and, in higher elevations, when you have fog to add to the complexity of the environment you are traveling along. Aside from travel time, nothing more serious like life or limb can be lost by practicing safe driving whenever it is raining hard. That includes slowing down, turning on your lights (for visibility) and refraining from undertaking risky maneuvers. Pedestrians and cyclists, too, need to take more caution knowing the higher risks they face or are exposed to when traveling under inclement weather conditions.

Rains, floods and traffic

The wet season is here and with it the now typically heavy rains in the afternoons. Last week, the heavy rains brought upon flash floods in Metro Manila and adjacent towns. There have been no typhoons yet so these are mainly monsoon rains (Habagat), which we expect to be daily occurrences. Many of these floods are along major roads including EDSA, C5, Espana, and Quezon Ave. that transformed these roads into parking lots as most light vehicles are unable to traverse flooded streets.

11390151_10152810738186805_18884354179388413_nVehicles run along the flooded Elliptical Road in Quezon City

11390210_10152810738321805_9043366778214047404_nJeepneys and SUVs (at right in the photo) take on the flooded Elliptical Road-Quezon Avenue intersection

Due to the traffic congestion resulting from the floods, many public utility vehicles especially jeepneys and UV Express vehicles were not able to go back and make their round trips.

11391604_10152810738141805_4776796639676842585_nCars risk the floods along Elliptical Road – the deepest waters are, ironically and curiously, along the section fronting Quezon City Hall where there is a pedestrian underpass connecting city hall with the Quezon Memorial Circle. Since the underpass is not flooded then it can be concluded that there’s something wrong with the drainage for Elliptical Road.

The weather is a very significant consideration for transport planning for cities in the Philippines. For Metro Manila it is almost everyone’s concern about how they can travel between their homes, offices, schools and other destinations without them and their things getting wet. This is what a lot of people advocating for road sharing seem to forget or choose to forget in their arguments for walking and cycling. A person residing in Fairview in Quezon City and working in Makati City will most likely not walk or cycle between his home and office because of the weather. This is a reality that could be solved by good public transportation, which, unfortunately, we also don’t have (yet) so people are ‘forced’ to do what they can to improve their plight. Unfortunately, too, what they are forced to do is purchase a car (or more). The proposal to build infrastructure to enable walking and cycling especially over medium to long distance is in the same dilemma as those for mass transit. And the latter is the more urgent matter needing action for the sheer volume of people they can carry and therefore benefit.

No PAGASA? No problem!

I interrupt the transport theme of this site with something about the weather, which actually affects transport and traffic. Rains have resulted in flooded streets and lead to severe traffic congestion. Meanwhile, typhoons have always disrupted travel with airlines forced to cancel flights and maritime operations put on hold. Those braving the weather risk frightening turbulence or rough seas, hopefully not leading to air crashes or capsizing vessels.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website has been down the past two days at a time people are anxious on information about a typhoon affecting the country with potentially catastrophic outcomes. The Philippines’ weather bureau has put up an alternative site to provide information on the approaching typhoon. Ruby (International name: Hagupit) had developed into a super typhoon yesterday and its Category 5 attributes reminded people about how destructive such forces of nature can be barely more than a year after Yolanda (Haiyan) lay waste several provinces. It seemed that the international name of the typhoon itself was apt for its potential. “Hagupit” is Pilipino for “to lash,” and it would seem to be something like a scourge of God if the typhoon were to make landfall like Haiyan last year.
I have not been too dependent on the PAGASA site despite all the information it provides including real time information on the water levels of major rivers in Metro Manila. I take exception of DOST’s NOAH project, which to me is technically not PAGASA and very useful for their Doppler data and visualization. Two websites that I highly recommend to people for information on the weather are the following:
For those interested in modeling and the forecasting of typhoons from their formative stages the website by the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US is a very interesting site.
Following are sample visuals from the three sites I mentioned, which can be good references for the weather. I highly recommend Wunderground, which also has an app for your smartphone, for daily or even hourly weather information.
JTWC’s latest information on Hagupit

Wunderground’s latest 5-day forecast for Hagupit

NOAA storm tracks showing current and potential weather systems in the Western Pacific