Out of the 777 automated weather stations (AWS) deployed nationwide by WeatherPhilippines, 124 are located in Mindanao.
These are either installed at Davao Light and SM sites or priority meteorological sites under the care of our partner local government units (LGUs).
After three years of expanding our nationwide network of AWS, data shows that the country’s metropolitan cities and business districts in the National Capital Region are the biggest users of weather.com.ph.
However, one community in Mindanao went beyond visiting the website to check the local weather, and actually used their localized weather information for sustainable local development. This community is the coastal municipality of Lebak, Sultan Kudarat.
Lebak, Sultan Kudarat
Lebak gets its name from the Maguindanaon term “hollow”, because it sits between a mountain and the Celebes Sea. Its 27 barangays have the best views of the mountains and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze on a 22-kilometer coastline lined with mangroves.
However, perfect as Lebak’s best-of-both-worlds location might seem, this year’s El Niño did not spare the town from droughts and dry spells caused by below-average rainfall.
El Niño and Lebak’s Agriculture
“The severity of the drought was threatening the remaining crops serviced by the irrigation systems, as well the fruit trees, coconut and banana, and the high-value crops such as rubber, cacao, coffee, and other plants,” said Myla Cañete, Lebak’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management Officer.
Aside from indicating the agricultural activities affected by the drought, one of the most hard-hitting statistics she has shown the foundation was the P143-million damage in rice and corn brought by El Niño. Note that this amount is only a fraction of the estimated P4-billion agricultural loss recorded by the Department of Agriculture so far this year.
So how did an LGU empower its community to beat the odds against a natural phenomenon that dries up their community livelihood?
Optimizing Weather Data for Cloud-Seeding Initiatives
Through a weather-data-driven collaboration with the regional government, Lebak was able to mitigate the effects caused by El Niño.
“The Office of the Regional Agriculturist of Region XII has started a cloud-seeding operation in the region,” Myla said, sharing that a team of cloud spotters would pass on weather information for a particular time of day to their cloud-seeding team. The significant weather elements are: 1) visuals of seedable clouds, 2) wind direction, and 3) wind speed.
“The data generated by our AWS greatly enhanced our capacity to provide the cloud seeding team with an accurate forecast on wind direction and wind speed. The 5-day forecast enabled us to closely monitor our skies for seedable clouds, and to determine the possibility of rain.
The data of our AWS is vital for us to have rains,” she added.
The AWS has also helped the LGU evaluate the success of the project. Rain gauge data provided the estimated amount of rainfall produced by seeding, which is vital for the cloud seeding team to avoid wasting seeding agents.
After months of planning and preparation, the Department of Agriculture reported in February 2016 that the cloud-seeding initiative in Mindanao successfully induced light to moderate downpours in Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, and Sarangani provinces.
Weather Knowledge for Sustainable Development
In 2014, WeatherPhilippines deployed 3 AWS in Sultan Kudarat (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat Capitol, and Lebak) in addition to 224 other priority meteorological sites in the Philippines. This helped LGUs use localized weather forecasts for typhoon preparations.
This year, Lebak’s El Niño experience are examples of how LGUs are going beyond using weather information for typhoon preparedness, and are now maximizing the tool for sustainable development.