[VIEWPOINT] Staying ahead of the weather

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[VIEWPOINT] Staying ahead of the weather

Five mountain climbers lost their lives, and 10 others were injured by lightning strikes on Mount Bukhan and Mount Surak on July 29.
In retrospect, it was a lack of understanding of severe weather conditions that led to the loss of life. It seems that people generally think that there is a very low possibility of being struck by lightning. Of course, the possibility under normal circumstances is very low.
However, at places like mountain peaks or golf courses, the possibilities of lightning strikes get markedly higher. Besides, there are reports, both at home and abroad, that lightning has caused casualties at various places including outdoor swimming pools, playgrounds and fishing areas.
Therefore, people have to protect themselves by refraining from outdoor activities when there is a forecast for lightning.
It is well-known that the frequency of torrential rains on the Korean Peninsula has been increasing recently. With downpours on the rise there is a high possibility that the frequency of lightning strikes will also increase.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted this year that global warming will progress for a long time in the future. Accordingly, it is anticipated that the frequency of the occurrence of extreme weather conditions will also increase.
Therefore, we must be prepared to cope. In order to do so, it is necessary that individuals, the government and the local authorities should make a concerted joint effort.
First of all, individuals should be armed with cautiousness. If people will only take a humble attitude toward dangerous weather, the casualties can be reduced.
For this, people must understand the dangers of climatic conditions.
Various educational publicity aimed at the general public are urgent. The information should especially reach the rapidly increasing number of people who enjoy a variety of leisure activities, including mountain climbing, which is what the casualties were engaged in during the latest lightning strikes.
Secondly, it is important that the government and local authorities take proper measures to respond to climate changes.
Damage from severe weather generally occur in places where the responses are weak. It is difficult to establish an effective response system in the absence of active support from the central as well as local governments.
The same precautionary measures taken against torrential rain and typhoons should be taken against scorching heat waves. Temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, which swept many areas in Europe and China recently, is known to have caused trouble for an even bigger segment of the population than any other severe weather conditions. It can be especially critical for the aged and people in low-income brackets.
As there are possibilities that scorching heat waves could occur on the Korean Peninsula at any time, the government and local authorities should be as prepared to cope with them as they are for torrential rain and typhoons. For example, publicity on how to respond to heat waves at home, school and in work places, as well as preparations such as a shelter equipped with airconditioning, should be made.
Lastly, the meteorological observatories should have the ability to provide a detailed forecast of severe weather conditions.
The Meteorological Administ-ration should be equipped with the ability to predict sudden changes in weather conditions by strengthening its relatively weak short-term forecast system. The current system is based on the three-dimensional surveillance of atmospheric changes that enables it to forecast the weather with a one-to three-hour delay.
It should now stop using the excuse that sudden climatic changes cannot possibly be forecast. Academic circles, in conjunction with the administration, should study harder to grasp severe weather conditions that take place on the Korean Peninsula.
Under the present circumstances where we don’t have a good grasp of the atmospheric conditions, it is difficult to expect forecasting to develop.

Lee Tae-young
The writer is a professor of atmospheric sciences at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

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