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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Aug. 4)

All News 07:04 August 04, 2020

Clueless on the weather

Heavy monsoon rains have hit Korea's central and northern areas this week after battering the southern regions last month, raising serious concerns about casualties and property damage.

Roads have been destroyed by landslides and several people have died or gone missing from flood water. Sewage backed up near a popular exit of Gangnam Station last Saturday in southern Seoul, saturating the entire area with wastewater. The water hazard got so severe that President Moon Jae-in, who was planning a summer vacation at his private residence in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, had to cancel his break and remain in Seoul. The worst part about this all is that we still have a week left of it.

As Koreans reel from the heavy rain, many have begun to question the competence of the state-run Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) and doubt its core task of accurately forecasting the weather. Last May, the KMA announced that scorching hot days were in store for the country this summer, and that heat wave warnings were expected to be issued for nearly 20 days, double the amount of last year. Yet the average temperature of July turned out to be 22.5 degrees Celsius (72.5 degrees Fahrenheit), two degrees lower than the average year.

When confronted with the discrepancy, the KMA explained that Korea was cooler than expected last month because abnormally high temperatures from around the North Pole made temperatures in Siberia higher than the Korean Peninsula, eventually sending cold air to Korea.

In the old days, the KMA used to blame its absence of a so-called supercomputer when faced with public criticism for making erroneous weather predictions. And that's why the government decided to spend astronomic amounts of taxpayers' money to buy weather forecasting models. For every five years since 2000, the government has spent a whopping 40 billion won ($33.5 million) for a new supercomputer — that's 40 billion won for each. The Chollian-2A meteorological satellite Korea launched in 2018 has also been put into practical use since last year.

But what use is all of these state-of-the-art equipment and data-gathering devices when there aren't any experts who can analyze them correctly?

The world's environment is undergoing unforeseen changes due to climate change. That's no excuse for the KMA to disappoint the public with its wrong weather predictions. As the head of the KMA, Kim Jong-seok, said after he was appointed to the post in 2018, the KMA should live up to the public's expectations. This summer, he should reflect on that promise.

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