(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 5, 12-14)
SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea came under the grip of the season's harshest weather Thursday as a cold wave combined with heavy snow and strong winds brought traffic to a crawl and grounded planes and vessels.
At 7 a.m., the temperature in Seoul dropped to minus 16.1 C, with a wind chill of minus 25.3 C, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).
Snowfall was heaviest in the southern Seocho Ward, which received 13.7 centimeters of snow between Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning.
Other parts of the nation also saw temperatures plunge and snow pile up, with Mount Seorak in the country's northeast recording minus 29.4 C and many regions receiving 10-20 cm of snow.
The cold snap is expected to peak early Friday, according to the weather agency. Morning lows are forecast to fall to minus 18 C in the capital city and to minus 24 C in the northeastern city of Chuncheon. The southern port city of Busan is likely to experience a 44-year-low of minus 12 C, the KMA said.
In Seoul, subways were packed well before 7 a.m., and buses crawled on icy roads.
"I left home an hour earlier than usual and was surprised to see how crowded the subway was," a 30-year-old officer worker surnamed Kim said. "It looks like people left their cars at home because of the bad road conditions."
Trains were delayed at some overground subway stations as doors got stuck in the freezing cold.
The sudden snowfall led to serious traffic congestion and a growing number of road accidents.
At 2:20 a.m. Thursday, a car crashed into the outer wall of a building in southern Seoul after skidding on a slippery road, according to police.
The Seoul city government said it increased subway and bus services to facilitate travel.
Subway trains ran 36 more times, or a total of 608 times, between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and 27 more times (527 times in total) between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
The city also extended buses' rush hour schedules and temporarily lifted coronavirus restrictions that reduced nighttime buses.
At Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul, 86 departures and arrivals were canceled as of 2 p.m. due to the heavy snow. On the southern island of Jeju, 81 flights were cancelled as of 4:30 p.m.
Incheon International Airport, the country's main gateway, also reported seven flight cancellations as of 4 p.m.
A cold wave warning went into effect in Seoul on Wednesday night for the first time since Jan. 23, 2018.
The warning was already issued for many areas in Gyeonggi, Gangwon, Chungcheong and North Gyeongsang provinces at 9 p.m. Tuesday, followed by other areas Wednesday, including Incheon, west of Seoul.
The warning is issued when the morning low is below minus 15 C for more than two consecutive days, or when the temperature drops sharply and major damage is expected.
Mountainous areas of of Jeju also came under a cold wave warning for the first time since the nation introduced such alert systems in 1964.
The weather agency issued heavy snow advisories for Seoul, Jeju and almost all provinces of the country.
The KMA explained that the upcoming cold spell will be caused by a southward inflow of cold air from near Siberia. Temperatures will remain below the 30-year averages until next Tuesday and return to the seasonal averages next Wednesday, it said.
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