[Viewpoint] More forecasts to avoid snowy chaos

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[Viewpoint] More forecasts to avoid snowy chaos

The sudden snowstorm across the central part of the peninsula paralyzed an unprepared capital at the beginning of the new year. The 26 centimeters (10.2 inches) of snow that fell on Seoul on Jan. 4 was the most since records started being kept almost a century ago.

It is only natural that citizens are frustrated and dissatisfied in the aftermath of the unprecedented snowstorm. And the municipal authority is not the only one to be blamed for its delayed response in removing the snow: The Korea Meteorological Administration also deserves fierce criticism. As a meteorological specialist, I understand the frustration of the citizens regarding the snow forecast. Yet, we need to think again about how the media focused their attacks on the forecasting error.

According to media reports, countless citizens were late to work and suffered traffic accidents. Even the cabinet meeting, one of the most important venues for discussing state affairs, was not held on time. Is there any way to prevent such chaos and trouble in advance?

At present, the Korea Meteorological Administration provides forecast services to the general population only. Therefore, a forecast might not be appropriate for someone with a special purpose. This is why the 73rd Weather Group in the Air Force operates to offer customized information for Air Force pilots. Airliners are provided with specialized forecast services from the Aviation Meteorological Agency. Moreover, large seagoing vessels receive special “ocean routing” forecasts to allow them to sail across the Pacific Ocean efficiently and safely.

In fact, private meteorological service providers have been in business in Korea for over a year, offering brand-name weather forecasts. There are private consulting services, where a meteorologist provides a customized forecast personally. However, these businesses are not widely publicized and cater to a select few clients.

In the recent snowstorm, if cloud patterns had been monitored in real time in addition to the KMA forecast and these conditions had been reported to commercial clients with military efficiency, we would at least have saved some people from being late to work. If an organization were to sign a contract for customized “weather-navigation” services for its employees or members, it would be able to minimize opportunity costs from sudden weather changes. To put it simply, how we use weather forecasts is as important as how accurate they are.

We are living in an era of climate change, and we are experiencing various forms of extraordinary meteorological phenomena all around the world. Korea’s climate is increasingly becoming subtropical, with shorter winters and heavier rainfall in summer. In addition to the general tendency toward change, we are also suffering from unforeseen sudden shifts in the weather. The Korea Meteorological Administration cannot afford to meet the meteorological demands of the citizens alone. Just as private security firms share the duty of the National Police Agency, a weather forecasting industry should be promoted to supplement the role of the KMA.

Just in time, the Meteorological Industry Promotion Act came into effect in December 2009, and private meteorological service providers can now publish weather forecasts for the general public. In other words, broadcasters and newspapers can now include forecasts produced by private companies other than the Korea Meteorological Administration, so their reports can supplement the KMA’s. When citizens are provided with various forecast services and have a more in-depth understanding of the weather, we will be able to enjoy a safer and more efficient lifestyle.

*The writer is director of the Climate Management Center at the Seoul School of Integrated Science and Technologies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Seok-jun
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