'Agaton' is PH's first cyclone; signal no. 1 up

By Dharel Placido, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jan 17 2014 11:54 AM | Updated as of Jan 18 2014 05:41 PM

Satellite Picture at 5:32 p.m., 17 January 2014. Image courtesy of PAGASA

MANILA (3RD UPDATE) – A low pressure area (LPA) that unleashed torrential rains over parts of Mindanao has intensified into a tropical depression, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Friday.

PAGASA said the tropical depression, locally named "Agaton," has maintained its strength as it continues to move towards the Surigao provinces.

It was spotted 180 kilometers northeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur or 220 kilometers east of Surigao City as of 10 p.m.

Southern Leyte, Surigao del Norte including Siargao Islands, Surigao del Sur, Dinagat Province, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley have been placed under signal no. 1. PAGASA said these areas will experience 30 to 60 kph winds in 36 hours.

PAGASA said Agaton was packing maximum sustained winds of 55 kph near the center, and was moving southwest at 5 kph.

Agaton is forecast to be 70 kilometers north of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur on Sunday evening, and 75 km South of Cotabato City on Monday evening.

An estimated rainfall of 5 - 15 millimeters per hour (moderate - heavy) is expected within the tropical depression's 300-km diameter.

Agaton will bring moderate to occasionally heavy rains and thunderstorms over Central Visayas and the rest of Eastern Visayas, PAGASA said. Sea travel is risky over the seaboards of Luzon and Visayas.

34 killed

Before developing into a tropical depression, the LPA already killed 34 people in Mindanao after its rains triggered flooding and landslides, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

At a press conference, PAGASA forecaster Alcazar Aurelio said the presence of vortices around the LPA and the high pressure area caused the weather system to remain almost stationary and dumped rains in parts of Mindanao and Visayas.

Aurelio said Agaton is expected to weaken and be downgraded back to LPA status once it hits land.

"May mga bundok sa Mindanao, isa doon ang Mt. Apo. Kapag tumama ang bagyo, ito ay hihina, magiging low pressure area. Maaaring malusaw siya doon sa bandang Mindanao," he said.

At another press conference on Friday afternoon, Aurelio said Visayas and Mindanao will continue to experience heavy rains until Agaton hits land. The tropical depression is expected to hit Eastern Mindanao on Saturday afternoon.

"Pag tama niya sa Eastern Mindanao bukas ng hapon, pag humina siya, asahan natin na mas mapapaaga yung pagganda ng panahon sa Visayas at Mindanao. Kung hindi ay patuloy itong makakaranans ng pag-ulan," he said.

He said the weather will start to gradually improve by Monday afternoon.

PAGASA weather division chief Robert Sawi, meanwhile, explained that cyclones usually form around Visayas and Mindanao during the amihan (northeast monsoon) season.

"Panahon ito ng amihan, iyung LPA habang papalapit ng Visayas at Mindanao, naghahalo ang mainit at malamig na temperature ng ating atmosphere. Nakakapag-enhance ito ng moisture content," Sawi said.

NDRRMC spokesperson Rey Balido told evacuees to remain in evacuation centers while waiting for the tropical depression to dissipate.