Locally developed app forewarned ‘Sendong’ fury


NAGA CITY, Philippines–A locally developed typhoon-tracking application, or app, correctly foretold the track of deadly Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: Washi) early Friday last week, several hours before it rampaged through northern Mindanao, leaving more than a thousand people dead and many more homeless.

The “iTyphoon” app, a typhoon-tracking app for mobile gadgets jointly produced by programmers from Ateneo de Naga University and the typhoon forecasting center of the Naga College Foundation, had released an advisory as early as 6 a.m. of Friday, Dec. 16, that the intensifying Sendong would be passing through Cagayan de Oro City in the evening of that day.

“On the forecast track, the core of Washi will make landfall over Surigao del Sur later this afternoon. It will then move across Northern portion of Bukidnon and will pass very closely to Cagayan de Oro this evening,” the tracking update of iTyphoon on that day showed.

It further advised: “Residents living in low-lying and mountainous areas under Public Storm Signal are alerted [for] flashflood, mudslides and landslides …”

It forecast the rainfall accumulation to be “High” at 200 millimeter (mm) and rain rate to be “Heavy” at 20-30 mm/hour.

The brainchild of programmer Magno Conag III and typhoon enthusiast Michael Padua, the iTyphoon is an application focused on typhoons entering the area of responsibility of the Philippines and made easy through animation, graphic display, concise forecast using visual language and complemented with access to Google map.

Released to Android market in Google on Sept. 6 and iOS in Apple on Oct. 6, the i-Typhoon app can be downloaded from from the two Internet sites.

Conag, who heads the Nueva Caceres Technology Solutions Inc. (Nueca Technologies) that created iTyphoon, said iTyphoon was listed on the top of new apps downloaded by users for seven straight weeks since Oct. 7 in the Apple site for gadgets using iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.

Conag noted it had been in No. 4 in the “What’s Hot” featured list with close to 6,000 users from the Philippines, the United States of America, Singapore and Hongkong.

“iTyphoon can be downloaded and installed by anyone using an Android or iOS-enabled device. With a data connection via Wi-Fi, GPRS, or 3G, anyone can check for typhoon updates anytime, anywhere,” he said.

It was launched Dec. 15 in Quezon City and hosted by the Rotary Club of Midtown Quezon City where former Naga City Mayor and now Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo graced the event.

“Bicolanos are no strangers to typhoons and our experience has taught us that being informed and prepared are crucial to the prevention of loss of both lives and property.” Robredo said in a statement.

Conag said Padua, owner of Typhoon 2000, provides the forecast data and weather interpretation–which he drew from different weather forecasting sites and models–which he translates into easy to visualize and understand language.

To make the forecast more relevant to Filipino users tracking weather disturbances in the Philippines, the affected areas are identified in relation to its proximity to the province and major cities.

For example, Typhoon Sendong bulletin on Dec. 16 categorized its distance from its proximity to land from nearest to furthest as: “Distance 1: 265 km ESE of Bislig City; Distance 2: 272 km ESE Hinatuan, Surigao DS; Distance 3: 402 km ESE Malaybalay, Bukidnon.”

“Distances between the typhoon location and strategic locations such as cities, provinces and popular tourist destinations, which the typhoon will be affecting, are also calculated,” Conag explained.

He said the iTyphoon app features all the basic information about the typhoon including its Philippine and international names, its location, wind speed, gustiness direction, movement speed, the direction it is heading towards, and a narrative of the typhoon’s behavior.

“There is also an animated icon that indicates the typhoon status whether it is intensifying, weakening or steady. The background is also descriptive. An ocean background means the typhoon is over the ocean but when the background becomes Mt. Mayon, it means the typhoon has hit land. It also echoes the public storm signal warnings issued by Pagasa,” he narrated.

Conag said the interesting feature is the map section, which plots the typhoon and user location, the most useful information is the analysis and forecast for the next 24 to 72 hours on the weather disturbance.

Conag said iTyphoon can only be downloaded by iOS and Android devices because they have yet to develop the program to make it available to all handsets due to lack of funds to purchase the needed hardware through which they would be able to launch the application.

“iTyphoon is initially available in the Android and iOS platforms, but we intend to expand into the other platforms, as well, such as Windows, Meego, Java, Symbian, Bada and RIM,” Conag said.

Conag said the idea of a typhoon-tracking application was hatched in June 4, 2011 after he was inspired by the success story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told through the movie The Social Network.

“I just shouted ‘Damn!’ and jumped up and down in my room in my excitement,” Conag narrated.  “It was a moment of illumination and I just felt the need to come down to the city center and meet the team and do something.”

“What made me shout that powerful word (damn) is that because we know we could do the same thing, but we never thought of doing it because of self-doubt.  This is the difference of Zuckerberg from us,” he said.

He added that the core group of the Nueca Technologies was finally composed by his students Japhet Vincent Abejero, Jonathan Neithan Casano, Marian Gia Borja-Conag, Ronnie Amata and David Michael Padua.

Padua, head the Typhoon Preparedness Center at Naga College Foundation and dubbed “Mr. Typhoon” of Bicol Region owing to his accurate forecasts of weather systems during the past years, prepares the weather updates through his own webpage www.typhoon2000.ph.

Being natives and residents of the region which is almost always the focus of the wrath of most typhoons that form in the Pacific Ocean, Conag and his team chose to develop the software around the weather system in order to provide invaluable information to the public and alert them regarding possible calamities that may bring damage to life and property.

However, Conag added they were now working on the next version of iTyphoon but it may no longer be free for users.

He said he and his team were looking for partners to support their efforts in order to spare the user from paying for each download of the application.

Zandro Babol, managing partner who takes care of the financial aspects of the project, said that users might have to pay around $2.99 US for each download if they would not be able to find partners to invest in the project.

Conag, however, said he hoped to launch the next version for free because he believed the application is a much needed tool for every person and entity for the protection of lives and property.

“Why support iTyphoon?  It’s because we can’t do it alone. Bigger things need more hands,” Conag said.

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