The typhoon season is now upon us once again so I thought of doing a retrospective on an interesting question posed by a reader in 2009 about weather reporting terminology in the Philippines.
Here’s that question from Mr. Leoncio Contreras:
“I get so annoyed when I hear from TV anchors and read in the print media the statement ‘The typhoon has entered the Philippine area of responsibility.’
“I believe it is the obligation of PAGASA to paraphrase that statement in this more appropriate wording: ‘The typhoon has entered Philippine soil.’”
My reply to Mr. Contreras:
After looking into the origins and semantics of the term “area of responsibility,” I think we are well-advised not to tinker with it. Offhand, I’ll already say that I could find neither a suitable paraphrase nor even a synonym that comes close to what it means.
The term Area Of Responsibility (AOR) defines an area with specific geographic boundaries for which a person or organization is responsible in some way. For the Philippines, however, this AOR isn’t meant to define its internationally recognized territory, and it isn’t a measure either of its land mass or what is referred to as “Philippine soil.”
This is because as is well known, the Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 islands that irregularly jut out from the sea, and the nation’s share of territory on the globe actually extends way beyond the shorelines of these islands. Indeed, although the Philippines has a total land area of 300,000 sq. km (115,830 sq. miles), the so-called “Philippine Area of Responsibility” covers several multiples of that area in terms of sea and land combined.
For those who know at least a smattering of spherical geometry, the Philippine Area of Responsibility or PAR is that part of the world map “bounded by rhumb lines on the Philippine Tropical Cyclone Tracking Chart/Map or imaginary lines on the surface of the earth that makes equal oblique angles with all meridians joining the following points: 25°N 120°E, 25°N 135°E, 5°N 135°E, 5°N 115°E, 15°N 115°E, 21°N 120°E and back to the beginning.”
The initials N and E refer to the compass directions “north” and “east,” the superscript “o” after the numbers stands for “degrees of the Earth’s arc,” and the term “rhumb lines” means “any of the points of the mariner’s compass.” This sounds like science mumbo-jumbo, though, so it’s much better to just visually check out this area by viewing the map itself (http://tinyurl.com/ob69h9u).
Anyway, within the Philippine area of responsibility, the PAGASA is mandated to monitor tropical cyclone activity and to make the necessary warnings. It has to issue bulletins every six hours for all tropical cyclones within this area that have made or are anticipated to make landfall within the Philippines, or every 12 hours when cyclones are not affecting land.
So don’t get annoyed when PAGASA repeatedly uses the term “Philippine area of responsibility.” Those hardy weather forecasters of ours aren’t really having big airs when they use that term. They don’t really have much choice—or would you rather they pounce on you with “AOR, AOR” or “PAR, PAR” ad infinitum whenever a typhoon’s coming?
The Philippine media have gotten used to referring to the Philippine weather bureau as PAGASA, which oxymoronically means “hope” in Tagalog—a rather inappropriate denotation because of the often dire news that the bureau reports during the typhoon season.
PAGASA is the acronym for the kilometric official name Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, which, in turn, is rendered in Filipino as the equally kilometric, strange-sounding Pangasiwaan ng Palingkurang Atmosperiko, Heopisikal at Astronomiko ng Pilipinas (PPAHAP). The acronym of this Filipino name doesn’t form any nice existing Tagalog word and doesn’t resonate either, so it’s really understandable why it’s the English acronym that has gained currency.
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