A tornado in the Philippines? How surpisingly shocked were you?
Living in the ring of fire makes life interesting for residents in the Philippine archipelago. People don’t just worry about the rain, wind and flood, on top of the annual quota of earthquakes and super typhoons. Now they have to worry about tornadoes as well.
This comes as a shock to many, if the events of the past week are any indication. For a typical Filipino born and bred in the tropical isles, the concept of a moving vortex in the air and swallowing everything in its path is the stuff of movies (think Dorothy in Kansas in the Wizard of Oz) and not something you’d see crossing the Manila skyline.
But this is exactly what netizen Karen Daphne Madrigal caught in her time-lapse video, which has since gone viral. The tornado (buhawi in local parlance) that hit Manila last Sunday was strong enough to destroy at least 300 homes and structures. Two people were hospitalized while 15 people were hurt.
The event prompted people to ask whether this was a sign that tornadoes were going to be a local staple from now on, given its rarity in this part of the world. In fact, according to world stats, the US, Canada and Mexico take the top three spots for tornado climatology – the Philippines doesn’t even figure in the top five. However, weather experts say that this is not so. In a recent report, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA) senior weather specialist Jun Galang said that though the frequency of severe thunderstorms could cause tornadoes to form, this is not always guaranteed.
Three days later, another tornado tore through San Miguel, Bulacan, north of the metro, destroying not less than 20 homes in its stead. Video footage showed aluminum roofs flying in the air.
What does this all mean? Galang admits that climate change could increase such rare occurrences in this part of the region. It’s also an indication that the experts are still trying to figure it out this phenomenon, therefore the safest bet is to keep your bases covered.
Here are some useful tips from the US’ Center for Disease Control and Storm Prediction Center:
The following are warning signs that a tornado is approaching:
- a dark or green-colored sky
- large, dark, low-lying cloud
- hail or heavy rain preceding a dead calm or fast wind shift
- a loud rumble resembling the sound of thunder or a freight train
Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud (you don’t need to see a funnel)
- Power lines snapping as evidenced by mall, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm at night
When you see any of these things, apart from seeing an obvious tornado, run for shelter as flying debris may cause harm or even death. Avoid windows or staying inside a car. If you don’t have a basement to hide in, go to the lowest floor and into a room with no windows: bathroom, closet, or center hallway. For added protection get under a heavy table and cover your body – especially your head – with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress.
With proper awareness a sudden tornado won’t be able to take you by surprise.