Local weather station very limited on data and equipment
Despite not being equipped with weather radar, the National Weather Service in Tafuna is still able to provide weather reports — as accurate as possible — during a cyclone and the local weather service is the “official” warning center for American Samoa.
According to meteorologist Carol Baqui of the Weather Service Office during last week’s ‘Pre 2013-2014 Hurricane Season Coordination Workshop’ for the local media, organized by the local Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) and the National Weather Service Office, the local office in American Samoa “has very limited data and equipment.”
“This office compared to all other offices across the United States — nothing compares to what the forecasters have to go through out here,” she made clear to about a dozen media representatives, at the outset of the nearly four-hour workshop.
“Up to now, we still do not have a [weather] radar, which would be very, very helpful for our end not only to identify the rainfall amounts, and to know what type of wind gust we’re expecting to see, but also to identify the location and the movement and the center of a tropical system,” she said, adding that lack of funds is the reason behind not having a radar for Pago Pago.
With the absence of weather radar, the Weather Service Office uses a sensor by launching a weather balloon every six hours when monitoring a storm, said Baqui, while during non-cyclone weather checks, the sensor is launched every 12 hours.
She referred to last December’s Cyclone Evan that devastated neighboring Samoa, and explained that launching the balloon every six hours helped them realize that the storm system would not make its way to American Samoa.
During hurricanes and other storm systems that could impact the territory, Baqui stressed that, “we — the Weather Service Office — are the official warning center for American Samoa,” even if other offices put out statements which are just their general information.
Additionally, any information or warning put out by forecasters in Samoa, is part of their weather service, but “we are responsible for American Samoa”.
The workshop included a full explanation of the weather advisory, followed by warnings. There was also a leaflet distributed to media representatives explaining what is considered “Gale” and “Storm” advisories and warnings.
Baqui pointed out that when winds reach 75-mph, that is considered a hurricane and the media, especially broadcasters, should stress this to the community, especially when there are many on Tutuila and Manu’a who tune in to Samoa’s Radio 2AP.
She said that when their Samoa counterparts were in the territory last month for a meeting, “theirs was a whole different take on their end — everything is considered ‘afa’ (or hurricane) because of the wind forces."
For example, the local Weather Service Office could issue a Gale warning, with winds of 40-50 mph and in the local Samoan translation, it’s “Matagi Malolosi”. For storm warnings, winds are 55-70 mph and the local Samoan translation is “Matagi Matua Malolosi”.
However, in neighboring Samoa, the Samoan translation for Gale warning is “Matagi Afa” or hurricane winds while Storm warning is considered “afa” or hurricane — which causes panic and confusion for American Samoa residents.
As American Samoa is now in hurricane season, Baqui urged the media, especially broadcasters, to assist the Weather Service office by getting out the right information for local residents dealing with “Gale” watch and warning, as well as “Storm” watch and warning.
She also emphasized that the local weather service will only issue a hurricane watch and warning when winds are clocked at 75 mph.
According to data distributed at the workshop, winds of 75-95 mph is a Category One cyclone; 100-110 mph is a Category Two; 115-130 mph is a Category Three; 135-155 is a Category Four and winds of more than 155 is Category Five.
“So if you could help us... to provide this information through your public announcements, that would really help us,” Baqui said adding that based on reports to the Weather Service Office there are many local residents who listen to Radio 2AP and this is a challenge and makes it difficult for local authorities to make sure that the public understands when a storm is considered a hurricane.
She acknowledged that it’s the community’s prerogative to listen to Radio 2AP, “but our part here, including TEMCO, is to provide accurate information to our folks.”
(Samoa News should point out that residents of some outlying villages on Tutuila and all of the Manu’a island group have said that they do not pick up the signal for local radio stations and therefore, they depend on Radio 2AP. However, there are others on Tutuila who prefer to listen to Radio 2AP — even though they get local radio stations broadcast signals.)
Baqui said the Samoa forecasters have their services posted on their website and “you will notice the difference” with what’s provided by the local Weather Service Office. She urged broadcasters “not to read their (Samoa weather) products over the air” to prevent confusion and conflicts with what’s been issued locally.
She also recalled past incidents where Samoa would issue a statement that a tsunami watch or hurricane watch is in place or has been canceled and “that is their prerogative but any person who dwells or resides in American Samoa — we are responsible.”
“We stick to the American system of forecasting and terminology” she said and quickly pointed out that they still work in partnership with forecasters in Samoa because the goal is to protect the community. But, “we issue the official weather statements for American Samoa.”
She also shared that whenever there is a developing storm system to the west of Tutuila, it is Samoa's forecasters who “take the lead” in weather output and sharing of information. But if the system develops to the east of Tutuila or to the north of our area or near Swains, “we take the lead” then it is followed through to Apia.
Baqui also made sure that everyone who attended the workshop understood that they work together with the Weather Service in Honolulu, the Nadi Forecasting Center, (which is the regional warning center for the South Pacific), and the Samoa Met Service (or weather office).