New NWS meteorologist meets with House members

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THE new National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist on Guam, Landon Aydlett, met with members of the CNMI House of Representatives on Monday afternoon to discuss weather and disaster preparedness throughout the Micronesian region.

Aydlett took over this role after his predecessor, Charles “Chip” Guard, retired in December. “I have huge shoes to fill,” Aydlett said, “but I like to say that I am bringing my own shoes.”

Aydlett told House members that his role covers weather and disaster preparedness throughout the entire Micronesian region, including the CNMI and Guam. “It is my goal moving forward that we have more of a visible presence here in the CNMI,” he added.

Aydlett said he aims to make more trips to the CNMI this year to do more community outreach, mainly with core partners and local schools, because “that is where education is key.”

He paid a visit to Mount Carmel School earlier that morning to speak with its educators and students.

“We get to visit schools across Guam every month because we are right there on Guam. We have schools, classes, and university students come to our facility for tours on our operations, and also receive a lecture on regional weather preparedness. This is something I would like to do more often in the CNMI when we travel up here,” Aydlett said.

He added that he would like the NWS to be present not just in person, but through communications.

Aydlett said he is the regional program lead on an agency-wide outreach initiative, in which email notifications are sent from their Guam office to government agencies, businesses, organizations, civic groups, and schools in the region. This allows direct contact between the NWS and the public, not just to discuss weather and disaster preparedness, but to also learn more about meteorology, science, and technology.

CNMI House members asked Aydlett questions regarding his new role; the responsibilities of the NWS compared to those of the Department of Homeland Security; and how the CNMI can better prepare itself for tumultuous weather and other natural disasters.

“We do not want [people] to be reactive; we want them to be proactive,” said Aydlett.

When asked if there were any immediate concerns that the CNMI should be made aware of, Aydlett stated that there are none. He added that climate-wise, “we are looking at an average tropical cyclone season coming up this year.”

He said: “We are at what we call an El Niño neutral situation, and that is fairly good news. It is a lot better than an El Niño. We expect these conditions to continue through the spring and possibly all the way through summer, but we will be assessing the study and the research on that aspect in the coming months.”

What does that mean for us now? “Windy and dry,” Aydlett stated. The main threats to the region this year will be water hazards, hazardous surf, hazardous seas, and strong rip currents, he said. “The windy/dry conditions will prevail at least through May or June.”

Aydlett noted that these conditions involve wildfire threats. He informed the lawmakers that all wildfires in the region are man-made.

“Whether it is somebody flicking a cigarette butt out the car window when they are driving, or somebody burning debris in the yard and ash and embers flying away into the dry pocket. Only you can prevent forest fires.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Landon Aydlett, sixth left, poses with some members of the House of Representatives on Capital Hill, Monday afternoon.  Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

Aydlett said the NWS is currently tracking droughts in the region on a weekly basis. “Climate-wise, we do not expect it to be severe or catastrophic this year. Usually, that would be associated with a moderate to strong El Niño.”

As for the typhoon season, the meteorologist said it is projected to be an average season this year. “The peak of the cyclone season [for the region] is late September, October, or early November.”

Aydlett said rapid intensification is a major concern for the NWS. However, he added, there is little chance that the CNMI will experience a typhoon worse than Super Typhoon Yutu, which slammed into Saipan and Tinian in Oct. 2018.

Regarding the Windy app, he said it is accurate. However, he added, it is also crucial for the public to accurately interpret the information on the app so as not to create a frenzy in the region rooted in misinterpretations of weather forecasts. Any massive misinterpretations are addressed by the NWS via public communication outlets, he said.

Aydlett said the NWS does not aim to be the first to notify the public about major weather updates. “We want to be the most accurate,” he added.

He said the NWS is closely watching the weather, looking for any concerning trends and disturbances in the region before sending out communications to the public.

With sea levels rising, he said low-lying coastal elevations will be more susceptible to a storm surge, big wave events or any kind of swell or surf events. He noted that this is a problem in the low-lying atolls and islands across the Pacific.

“Every inch of sea level rise makes [islands] more vulnerable to wave events, whether it is an astronomical high tide with a full moon cycle, or a large swell event originating from a large storm system farther away,” Aydlett said.

He then asked, “What is your resiliency plan? If sea levels are on the rise, what are we doing with our coastal populations out here?”

Aydlett recommended building concrete structures and ensuring that buildings are up to code, so as to prepare for severe weather and natural disasters.

In addition, Aydlett recommended refraining from traveling to and from the Northern Islands when weather warnings are in effect for the region. He noted that the NWS website is available 24/7.

On another note, he emphasized that earthquakes cannot be predicted. “When it comes to earthquakes, we always have to be ready. Education is key. What do you do when an earthquake happens? You duck, cover, and hold. Once that shaking stops, if you are near the water, get inland and higher up in elevation.”

He added, “We are not tsunami-proof. In fact, the Marianas Trench is our biggest local source for tsunamis. If we have a large earthquake in the trench, that tsunami wave could be here in the Mariana Islands in 15 to 45 minutes, and that earthquake would be your only warning because there would not be enough time to triangulate it in our sensors.”

Aydlett said wireless emergency alerts or WEAs are currently in the works for the region.

Sirens, he added, are somewhat problematic because of their ineffectiveness during power outages. In contrast, he said WEAs would be accessible to everyone with a cell phone, regardless of whether it is connected to the local mobile network or not.

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