[Viewpoint]Get serious about the weather

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[Viewpoint]Get serious about the weather

The Korea Meteorological Administration is getting a lot of criticism because it failed to correctly forecast the snowfall last weekend.
Despite general advances in weather-related technology, the accuracy of forecasts is still quite poor.
Isolated local weather conditions and the limited forecasting techniques could be the main reasons.
Our weather forecasters probably feel that, in some respects, it is not fair for them to have to take all the responsibility and receive heavy criticism when they make inaccurate forecasts.
However, it would be proper for them to do their best not to make errors, while at the same time trying to establish a fundamental system to make more accurate forecasts even though they face difficult conditions. The weather forecast has become an important tool of information in modern industrial society.
Proper weather forecasts can protect people and property from weather disasters, in the same way that national security workers aim to protect the nation.
There are many reasons why Korea needs to produce precise weather information.
In the first place, weather information has already become important in our daily economic activities. In all fields of society, there is a demand for such information.
Furthermore, the Korean Peninsula can not be free from disasters while increasingly record-breaking weather conditions break out all over the globe.
Advanced countries invest unsparingly to continuously improve the precision of their weather forecasts. The efforts made over the last half-century to develop numerical forecast technology, which is essential for accurate weather forecasting, are especially remarkable.
As a result of these efforts, the standard weather forecast has lengthened to three days now from one day 50 years ago, and it seems like it might be possible to extend the length of accurate forecasts to five to seven days within another 20 years.
Weather centers of advanced countries have forecast departments that develop numerical models to improve the precision of their forecasts.
The size and responsibilities of such departments differs a little from country to country, but they all have long-term weather forecasting goals, hire experts and provide a stable research and development environment for the researchers.
In comparison, Korea’s meteorological research is in a miserable situation.
The budget for research and development in meteorological research is only one-third of that of similar developed countries, and there is a huge shortage of weather experts in Korea.
In addition, the efficient use of existing manpower is not possible because of the bureaucracy’s personnel management principle, which says that public servants must rotate from one duty to another.
The number of Korean experts is small, so naturally that leads to a low participation rate in the research and development of source technologies in weather forecasting.
The United States’ National Centers for Environmental Prediction and the European Union’s Central Forecast Centre produce the world’s best weather forecast materials by securing expert human resources and organizations that study and develop weather forecast technology with the long term in mind.
But the Korea Meteorological Administration does not even have a department in charge of research and development.
The way for Korea to decrease the number of inaccurate weather forecasts while producing accurate forecasts with a high economic value is clear.
Upgrading hardware and software is important, but the more urgent task is to create a favorable environment for research and development that can support them.
The government provides support and investment in hardware continuously.
And the Korea Meteorological Administration plans to procure a third-generation supercomputer and upgrade its weather radar to a high-tech meteorological radar.
In 2009, Korea will launch a weather satellite.
It also plans to introduce a numerical forecast model from abroad.
The problem is our human resources. We need to be flexible enough to boldly find weather experts from abroad as well as at home to solve the problem of shortage in human resources.
If we also make use of contributing weather researcher systems, we can utilize high-level experts to the maximum.
We can put such human resources into continuous and stable development of root technologies. At the same time, we can also expect them to play a bigger role in the flow of human resources and technology among the Korea Meteorological Administration, the universities and companies.
In addition, there should be improvements, such as better treatment of workers in this field to attract talented human experts to the weather research field.
It’s time we gave active government support to meteorological research.

*The writer is a professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences of Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Dong-kyou
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