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Bidding for New Radar Station Set in Japan - CT

Bids are now being submitted in Japan for the construction of a new Doppler radar facility at the Buenavista station of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) in Bato, Catanduanes.

Engr. Fredolina Baldonado, Assistant Weather Services Chief at PAGASA Central Office, told the Tribune that the groundbreaking for the project, to be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will be held this November, with construction of the 39-meter tall building tower to take at least a year.

The Buenavista project is part of the upgrade of the weather bureau’s three aged radar systems in Aparri, Cagayan; Virac, Catanduanes; and, Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The existing radar systems, with capabilities limited to detection and monitoring of tropical cyclones forming in the Pacific Ocean, will have to be upgraded to enable Pagasa to provide advisories on rainfall volume and wind velocity.

Pagasa chief Nilo Prisco said in a recent statement that these are separate from the five Doppler radars now in the pipeline that are being funded by the national government under the 2005 and 2007 General Appropriations Acts and the 2007 calamity funds.

Once in place, Nilo said the agency will be able to provide ‘faster and more accurate’ weather updates. He said the radar upgrades and acquisition of new radar facilities will complement Pagasa’s program on the full automation of its monitoring, evaluation and dissemination processes.

At the moment, Pagasa can provide weather bulletins only at six-hour intervals but once the radars and automated systems are fully operational, the agency will be able to perform at par with three-hourly bulletins of its Japanese counterpart. Costing no less than P70 million each including spares and training of personnel, the Doppler radar can provide hourly weather update and accurate time and amount of rainfall in a given area as well as the wind velocity of a tropical cyclone. The Doppler radar is the most advanced instrument in weather forecasting. Aside from tracking typhoons, it can calculate wind speeds and formation or path of tornadoes.

According to the local Pagasa, the Buenavista radar station has been non-operational for three years now due to lack of spare parts, with weathermen limited to synoptic observations of cloud cover and rainfall amount using the rain gauge.

The defect was probably caused by the failure of the agency to run the radar 24 hours a day as designed, with moisture forming inside the sensitive equipment. Before it conked out, the radar was operated for two hours twice a day and then reduced to once a day for lack of funds for the purchase of fuel for the diesel generator.

A weatherman said they have been forced to rely on the 35-kV genset after the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Ficelco) failed to provide adequate, three-phase power 24 hours a day. He blamed wildly fluctuating voltage at the facility that at one time, the switch box burst into flames when they switched to co-op power.

Ficelco management has promised to look into possible solutions to the problem including the replacement of transmission lines and power transformers.

Under the design approved by JICA, the existing facility with its distinctive radome on top would be sliced in half, as the radome tower is structurally infirm. The remaining two-storey building would be connected to the new tower building via a bridge and would serve as the office.

On the other hand, it is claimed that the operation of radar before it went out of service had been affected by the operation of the Smart cellsite tower built in the same compound just 50 meters away from the radome. According to a weatherman, the radar had been rendered blind in the South-West sector where the cellsite is located as the echo from the radar did not bounce back..

The cellsite was constructed during the time of chief weatherman Ely Rodulfo and allegedly covered by a memorandum of agreement between the agency, the provincial government and the telecommunications company.

However, Eufronio Garcia, officer-in-charge of Pagasa Virac, said the central office itself is in the dark as to how the Smart cellsite tower came to be constructed inside the agency property. Even the personnel of the local Pagasa has yet to see a copy of the agreement, he stressed.

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 16 September 2009

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