Do you want to be a weather forecaster? Here’s how a young man followed his dream to PAGASA

Published February 11, 2021, 6:07 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

•    Benison Estareja had wanted to be a weather forecaster since he was in grade school.
•    After becoming a licensed electronics engineer, he took a hydrologists training course offered by PAGASA.
•    After finishing the course in the Top 10 of his class, he was offered a post in the Weather Forecasting Section (WFS).
•    In October 2016, when two strong typhoons, Karen followed by Lawin, were about to hit the country, Estareja, only two years on the job, was tasked to brief the public in a press conference. 
•    His advice to those who want to be a weather forecaster: “Pursue your science or math-related undergraduate course, opt to take a civil service or licensure exam, then do not hesitate to contact us in PAGASA for training or positions that may be available.”

(Photo via Ellalyn De Vera Ruiz / MANILA BULLETIN)

Even when he was still a grade school student, Benison Estareja, 32, already knew that he wanted a career as a weatherman.

For six years now, Estareja has become one of PAGASA’s dependable forecasters, providing vital information critical in saving the lives and properties of Filipinos.

He was first attracted to the career by Ernie Baron, a very popular weather forecaster in the 90s. 

“Back then, my mother and I used to watch Ernie Baron reporting the weather on TV and I remember telling her I wanted to be like him,” Estareja said. 

It was a dream that never got off his mind even though he made a career sidetrip as a professor at the Southern Luzon State University where he taught for three years. 

Following his career path, this licensed electronics engineer took a Hydrologists Training Course being offered by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In an online interview with the Manila Bulletin, Estareja gave a fascinating look at PAGASA’s new breed of meteorologists and the details behind the science of weather forecasting.

If you have the same dream, or are still thinking of a career, read on. This young PAGASA weather forecaster will tell you how to get there.

How did you become a weather forecaster?

In 2013, after I quit my teaching job, a college colleague urged me to apply for a training course in PAGASA. This is a free 11-month training conducted every two years and a prerequisite to become a weather specialist. The training course available at that time was the Hydrologists Training Course (HTC), not the Meteorologists Training Course that I preferred, but I took the chance anyway.

(Photo via Ellalyn De Vera Ruiz / MANILA BULLETIN)

I found HTC very challenging because I had to live away from home for the first time while learning concepts that are different from my engineering course. In the end, I made it to the Top 10 of the class and was prioritized for a weather specialist position. However, I did not get a post in the Flood Forecasting Section because there was nothing available at that time. Instead, I was offered a post in the Weather Forecasting Section (WFS)! 

Getting a weather specialist position in PAGASA takes time, effort, lots of patience, and a bit of luck, more so when you are aiming to be a weather forecaster. 

What are your current responsibilities at PAGASA? 

Some of my current duties in PAGASA include making the weather forecast, disseminating it to the public via SMS and social media, and responding to telephone inquiries and interviews. 

What is your most unforgettable or extraordinary moments on the job? 

There were many unforgettable moments during my career as a weather forecaster but I consider being in the limelight for the first time as the most extraordinary.

It was in October 2016 when two strong typhoons, Karen followed by Lawin, were about to hit the country. I was only two years in my post as a weather forecaster but I was already tasked to brief the public in a press conference. The warning spread like fire and it got public attention in no time. 

(Photo via Ellalyn De Vera Ruiz / MANILA BULLETIN)

After the briefing, my face was all over TV headlines, online articles, and newspapers the following day. It was also during that moment when my family, friends, and those unknown to me began to admire and acknowledge my work as a weather forecaster.

What was the first typhoon you reported? What was the most difficult one? 

The first tropical cyclone I reported was Mario in September 2014, the same month when I started working as a forecaster. 

The most difficult one was Rolly in November 2020. While still far from land, we had high confidence that Rolly will not be a super typhoon and will make landfall in Aurora-Quezon area. Surprisingly, a few hours prior to landfall, Rolly turned into a super typhoon and moved instead towards Bicol region. I then had to explain why such circumstances happened in my press briefing – proving how unpredictable forecasts are and how challenging it is to be a weather forecaster.

What was the most heart-warming feedback from a listener or audience that you got?

Hearing compliments and positive feedback from someone I do not know personally is always flattering. Also, a few of my friends that tell their friends and family how proud they are of me is truly humbling. 

However, the one feedback that got me was when a young stranger messaged me how inspired he was with my journey as a weather forecaster and that he wanted to be like me. Such feedback made me realize how blessed I am with my profession and that you can touch someone’s life without knowing it.

What can you advice those who also want to consider a career in meteorology?

In a country where rains, tropical cyclones, and climate change make a lasting impact in our daily living, the need for meteorologists is higher than ever. We need young, brilliant minds who are passionate about the weather and I believe there are thousands out there dreaming to be a meteorologist like myself. 

Just pursue your science or math-related undergraduate course, opt to take a civil service or licensure exam, then do not hesitate to contact us in PAGASA for training or positions that may be available. If I can become a meteorologist, I am sure you can be one, too.

 
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