Typhoon season in the Philippines

The rainy and typhoon season has officially started in the Philippines. Heavy downpour, strong winds, pounding waves accompany the typhoon as it wreaks havoc across its path. This is the season I’ve been worried about ever since we planned to live in the Philippines.

Philippines’ typhoon history is brutal. This country makes headlines all over the world for its strongest and most devastating typhoons. Thinking about last year’s Haiyan/Yolanda still gives me the shivers. I really hope this year’s season won’t be as devastating.

The two seasons: Dry and rainy season

The dry season lasts from January to May. So with the summer season over, we’re now right in the middle of the monsoon season lasting until around November.

I have to be honest. So far, I’ve actually enjoyed the rainy season a lot. No intense, dry heat. No hiding indoors next to the air conditioner. Finally we can step outside again.

The breeze coming in from the sea has been quite refreshing, the downpours are strong and intense, but luckily, always brief; and I also enjoyed the rough seas with the high waves and the relaxing sounds as the tide come in and recede.

My first rainy/monsoon season experience

But that was only true until now, because the first big typhoon of this season has hit the Northern parts of the Philippines. Suddenly the “winds” changed, and now it’s not about the welcoming breeze anymore but about people’s safety.

Just last week on our way home, late at night, by bus from Cebu City, I witnessed “instant” rivers caused by the intense downpour, running right through people’s homes. The volume of rain, the thunderstorm, and the flash flooding caused by weak to non-existent drainage systems—all these, is in a very shocking way, new for me. Inside the safety of the sealed, dry bus, we couldn’t do much than watch with disbelief at what we had to witness. At one point, our bus even had to turn back and change route because a landslide made the street difficult for the bus to pass safely.

Experienced locals

I feel safe and secure, though, knowing that I’m with people who has lifelong experience when it comes to dealing with tropical storms and typhoons. They’ve lived through countless cycles of the typhoon season in the Philippines, and at the end, have always prevailed—including Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Arthur’s uncle has even given to making it as a hobby monitoring the movements of weather disturbances, low pressure areas, etc.

The good thing with typhoons though, as morbid as it sounds, is that they’re known ahead of time (that they’re coming), so there is time to plan and prepare, unlike with that of earthquakes.

Typhoon signals

Typhoons in the Philippines have different strength categories termed “signals”. They go in the following order from weak to strongest, as illustrated in this infographic:

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda being the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, was signal number 5. It was categorised as a super typhoon.

Filipino typhoon names and naming convention

If you wonder why there are two different names for a single typhoon hitting the Philippines, that is because besides the international name, there’s also a Filipino name for the same typhoon. So in this example, Haiyan is the international name while Yolanda is the Philippine name.

The Philippine name for the first typhoon of the year always starts with the letter A, with the next one B, then C, and on until Z. This way you always know how many typhoons have been there so far in that year. So the recent Typhoon Glenda (July 15-16) is already typhoon number 7.

The strongest typhoon I have ever experienced was a signal number 2. It was so scary. I wouldn’t want to presume what it’s like with stronger typhoons.

Tips and suggestions for first timers visiting the Philippines

The tips below are just a preview of an upcoming book about travelling in Asia for which we contributed contents about all things Philippines-related. Watch out for it; and of course, we’ll keep you guys posted.

How to prepare for a typhoon

  1. Follow or read the local news for typhoon coverage and advisories. Heed these warnings, your life may depend on it.
  2. Before your journey to the Philippines, register yourself already to a “crisis list” of your nationality’s embassy. This is a service of many embassies and is for free. With the help of this list, embassies know that you are currently (or permanently) in the country. In case of massive destruction, flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, or other calamities, the embassy will help relatives of yours to search for you. Especially after a typhoon signal number 4 or 5, it may take days until you are able to contact anybody outside.
  3. Give your loved ones back at home as many contact numbers from local hotels, local friends, or local tour operators as possible. Phone services or internet connection could be down in the affected area for a while, but your relatives at home might be able to contact these numbers in order to hear any news about the situation in your area.
  4. Charge all electronic devices, as power is guaranteed to be out for an indefinite period of time.
  5. Pack an evacuation bag in case you suddenly need to evacuate to higher grounds or to the other islands. Pack only the most essential items (e.g., passport, medications, money, documents, and flashlight), this way you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.
  6. Watch what the locals do. They have a long experience with these things. They’re better positioned for knowing which areas in the community are prone to flooding or landslides, etc. If they say evacuation is necessary, follow their advice—don’t try to know any better.
  7. If you are in a very rural area, head to the nearest bigger towns. The government provides evacuation centers there (usually multi-story government schools, municipal halls, etc.). These are stocked with food and emergency responders are stationed there too. Besides, if the typhoon is of horrific proportions, it’s the bigger towns that gets reached first by rescue and relief organizations.

A real-life example from last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. While I was still in Finland, Arthur was already in the Philippines when the typhoon made landfall and destroyed San Remigio–and pretty much the island’s Northern part. Since there was no way for me to contact him or any other family members, I contacted the Finnish Embassy and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked them to help me find Arthur’s whereabouts. I needed to make sure that he and his family were alive. Since Arthur has a (dual) Filipino-Finnish citizenship,  the Finnish authorities took it as a very serious matter to find him. The embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already started the search for him when I received the news —from Arthur’s mother— I was so desperately waiting for: that they had all survived. Of course I notified the embassy about these good news right away. Still, it was a comforting feeling to have the authorities’ help when there is need.

And now it’s your turn dear readers. If you have some more advices to give, please write them down in the comment section below. Thanks.