BACOLOD CITY – It was 4:30, early morning of December 1 when I called Joemarie Vargas to check how the city was faring hours after Typhoon Tisoy, previously Kammuri, entered Philippine territory.
The seasoned weather observer rattled off a few updates then told me storm conditions would be felt Monday yet, December 2. I thanked him, said I’d call again later that day. “I’ll go catch a few winks now,” he said, and hung up the phone.
Dr. Zeaphard Caelian answered my call around 9 in the evening of 2 December. I asked him for a sitrep. He asked for 30 minutes to grab a quick dinner at home.
Around 30 minutes later, that report arrived in my inbox.
Zeaphard and Joemarie are among the leads in disaster management in the province. Zeaphard heads the Provincial Disaster Management Program Division while Joemarie is executive assistant to Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia and cluster head for the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office.
Like many disaster and rescue personnel, Zeaphard and Joemarie have lost sleep.
Since Bacolod City and Negros Occidental province were placed under public storm warning signals, they have been up and about tending to preparations for Typhoon Tisoy.
They are expected to lose sleep.
More so when a typhoon forecast to become stronger than Yolanda (Haiyan) is expected to hit.
Alert levels for the province and the city escalated to red from blue on 2 December. Hospitals were placed on alert, policemen were readied into search and rescue teams, boat trips and plane flights were cancelled.
Flash messages from the national disaster office (NDRRMC) became as frequent as reminders for the Black Friday promo and people waited and watched for PAGASA Facebook live updates like they do for the resurrection of Coco Martin on Probinsyano.
Everyone, it seemed, was on the edge, the memories of Yolanda acting like the ghost of Christmas past.
“That fear has, in a way, a purpose; it makes us want to prepare,” Zeaphard says in the afternoon of December 3, only hours before PAGASA lifted the storm signals over the province, as we talked about the criticisms being hurled at PAGASA.
The forecast for Tisoy’s waltz over the Philippines looked and sounded terrifying enough.
Zeaphard notes 22 towns and cities were placed under Storm Signal No. 2, the rest of the province under Signal No. 1.
Theoretically, by PAGASA definition, storm warning signals denote wind strength, time before impact, and typical damages that can be brought by a storm (See Table 1).
The storm warnings hoisted over Negros island looked alarming compared to recent years, a fact Zeaphard has seen.
“The entire province was covered, even some areas in Oriental Negros,” he said.
The storm spelled B.I.G. and Zeaphard and Joemarie, and the government units they were working for did not take any chances.
But when Monday morning, December 2 came, Bacolod woke up to slight drizzles and most parts of the province did not have stormy weather at all.
Seventy-eight kilometers south of here, Carlos “Otik” Benares Jr. was also surprised to wake up, or stumble out to sunny weather on the morning of 2 December when Tisoy’s wrath was forecast to be felt in the province.
“It was unusual,” Otik, an executive assistant, says on the morning of 2 December after a near-sleepless night.
Over the past years, Otik says Himamaylan usually gets heavy rains and strong winds when a storm enters. When Tisoy came: “as if nothing was happening,” he adds.
Even some local reporters accustomed to the rough and action-packed coverage during a storm were a bit dissapointed.
“Wala gid aksyon, pre (There was no action, buddy),” a veteran field radio reporter says.
Another, a young television reporter admits it was a bit of a downer.
“It is better for all of us that there was no ‘action’,” he says. It means, he adds “no one was hurt or killed, there was minimal damange. “
Some people, however, were critical of PAGASA, Zeaphard observes. “They say it was overacting or they got their information all wrong,” he says.
“They forgot to be thankful we were spared from damage, death and destruction.”
Politicians, or some of them, might credit “unusual” outcomes like this to prayer or, as one Bacolod official once said: “The Lord listened to me,” a somewhat Quiboloy-ish display of the power of the prayer maker. In short, epal.
To Joemarie, however, facts can explain it.
The storm, to begin with, did not spare the entire Philippines. Some people, at this moment, are homeless in Metro Manila, Sorsogon, and Bicol where winds described as “violent” levelled houses and destroyed homes.
And it was of these places, and Mayon Volcano, that we were spared from destruction.
Joemarie explains Tisoy’s left eyewall, right side if you are facing it, shattered when it made landfall on Bicol territory.
This forced the typhoon’s trajectory to shift, and lose destructive power.
“Think of a running car and the right wheel suddenly goes flat, naturally the car will careen in that direction,” Joemarie says.
Mayon and the mountain range in Bicol helped make it happen.
“We can thank Mayon and the mountains for that,” he adds.
Aside from that, typhoons also lose power when on land as these are deprived of heat and moisture (more on this soon).
We headed off to sunny weather in Talisay and Silay cities in the morning of 3 December.
Workers have started to work in the canefields once again and the markets were abuzz with activity.
At the Silay plaza, a group of youngsters were playing Mobile Legends, seemingly unmindful of the horrors that could have been, including power outages that could drive a smartphone-crazy generation mad.
By 2pm, PAGASA lifted all storm signals in the province.
I made the final call to Zeaphard around 2:30pm. Nothing was reported to him, he said, except for a fire incident in La Carlota City.
Joemarie Vargas answered my call around 4pm. No reports, too. I made the interview quick “so you can sleep,” I tell him.
“No, I’m fine already,” he says
As Tisoy prepares to leave, Zeaphard and Joemarie prepare to lose sleep again.