[Viewpoint]The forecast calls for cooperation

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[Viewpoint]The forecast calls for cooperation

One of the triumphs of 20th century science and technology is the development of medium-term weather forecasting, which is called the flower of weather forecasting techniques. Medium-term forecasting involves the prediction of atmospheric changes and weather conditions in the coming seven to 10 days by using all available forecast technologies, data processing techniques, prediction model technologies, super-computing technologies, etc. The accuracy of a medium-term forecast ― as well as hostile weather conditions such as heavy downpours, snowstorms and typhoons ―depends on numerical weather prediction technology.
The first priority of the meteorological administration is to provide short-term forecasts that can issue warnings about hostile conditions as early as possible and provide accurate medium-term forecasts.
South Korea’s weather forecasters, at present, are transferring or applying the forecast technology developed in advanced countries. Advanced forecasting equipment, such as weather radar, a meteorological satellite receiver and a supercomputer, have recently been imported.
So, do Korean forecasters take pride in their job and predict the weather in a professional way? No, they do not.
They have been disheartened by the strong criticism about their repeated incorrect forecasts. What should we do to reduce the chances of making incorrect forecasts? First of all, the number of forecasters should be increased and the government should give them the opportunity to learn up-to-date forecasting technologies and practice them at home as well as abroad.
The rule of the circular appointment of bureaucrats must be stopped to allow meteorologists to accumulate experience as specialists. And the government must adopt a bold policy of upgrading the status of forecasters confined to a lower rank in order to improve their morale.
Our weather observation equipment and networks do not lag behind other advanced countries. But the Korean Peninsula is surrounded by the sea on three sides and it is difficult for the South to get observational data from the North. Thus, South Korea is like an island that has the structural handicap of having no observational data from the surrounding area. In addition, using data from remote observational equipment ― such as weather radar and meteorological satellites that can supplement terrestrial data ― is still in the preliminary stage.
Modern forecasting technology can be divided into two areas. One is the subjective forecasting technique, using the forecasters’ knowledge and experience.
The other is the objective and quantitative forecasting techniques, based on numerical weather predictions. The two kinds of forecasting techniques supplement each other to provide feedback for the development of forecasting technology.
With the recent development of numerical prediction technology, forecasters tend to rely excessively on numerical prediction, which prevents the development of forecasting techniques.
The final forecasting is done by meteorologists. They must expand the scope of technology to improve the errors that come from numerical predictions. After all, the technique of using observational data, numerical prediction techniques and meteorologist forecasting techniques depends on the development of new software, such as one that allows flexibility in personnel management and the government’s financial support.
Priority should be given to the establishment of a policy that concentrates a limited budget and manpower on weather forecasters to help them enhance short-term, as well as medium-term forecasting techniques.
Japan has already become an advanced country in weather forecasting and China is going to exceed our forecasting capability soon by utilizing its abundant workforce and natural resources.
If East Asian countries share medium-term weather forecasting duties by cooperating in human resources and prediction capabilities, each country will not only save money, but also get an improvement in its medium-term forecasting.
Korea, China and Japan need to promote the establishment of an East Asian center for medium-range weather forecasting, equivalent to the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts, which makes the most accurate forecasts in the world.

*The writer is a professor of global environmental science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Dong-kyou
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