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June 28, 2017

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Does it take President Ma to decide on a typhoon leave?

Typhoons hit Taiwan every year, albeit they may skip the island some summers. While Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule, there wasn't any typhoon leave as we now have when a tropical rainstorm is heading our way from the Pacific or the South China Sea. Schoolchildren went to school and government offices were open, no matter how hard a large cyclone lashed the colonized island. Nobody complained.

It's not because there were no typhoon warnings. As a matter of fact, the Japanese set up a weather bureau, which has evolved into today's Central Weather Bureau. Japanese weathermen issued typhoon warnings, but it was up to schoolmasters or middle school principles to decide if their pupils and students, already in school, should go home for a day off.

Otherwise, they would keep the youngsters in school to weather the storm. The government offices remained open.

Things changed after Taiwan was restored to the Republic of China as a province. The provincial weather bureau warned of a coming typhoon, but the boys and girls went to school just the same, and the school authorities would grant typhoon leave.

Students would be told to go home after they reached school, even while torrential rains were wreaking havoc. Then, a Central Personnel Administration was created under the Executive Yuan to decide whether typhoon leave was to be given when a tropical storm was coming near Taiwan. Of late, it has become the responsibility of local governments to make that decision. Mayors and county magistrates could make different decisions, which makes parents complain but public servants happy for they are given an extra day off with pay.

But practically everybody blames the Central Weather Bureau. Weathermen are blamed for making inaccurate typhoon forecasts, which influence the local authorities to make wrong decisions in granting typhoon leave and in getting ready to cope with a typhoon disaster. On June 12, for instance, weathermen didn't warn their viewers of the extraordinarily heavy rains that devastated Taiwan. As a consequence, everyone complained, forgetting that weather prediction isn't a science but a developing art. Forecasts are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. The complaints against the June 12 prediction were so prevalent, vigorous and bitter that President Ma Ying-jeou came out to proclaim that the Central Weather Bureau should issue the typhoon warnings before 5:30 a.m.

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