Weathering tomorrow’s stormsExtreme weather events have taken a huge toll around the globe this winter. The Korean Peninsula is no exception. A vicious blizzard, more snowfall on the east coast, killer typhoons and torrential downpours since summer have set weather records across the country. The east coast was bombarded with snow for eight consecutive days earlier this month, the longest since records were first kept in 1911. Gangneung in Gangwon on Tuesday saw a record 110 centimeters (3.6 feet) of snow.
Wild weather led to casualties and catastrophes like the red tide that ruined fish farming on the southern coast as well as a major landslide and road inundation in southern Seoul. Heavy snow was partly blamed for the collapse of a gymnasium roof at a resort in Gyeongju that killed 10 people and injured more than 100.
Experts warn that weather events could become more extreme and frequent in the future.
Safety measures, naturally, will have to adapt to these changes and increasing dangers. Approvals and guidelines for buildings have been based on historic weather records. The guidelines should be recalibrated to more accurately reflect present and probable future conditions to better protect lives and property.
Although government offices are studying new measures to combat climate change, more investment and proactive actions are needed to cope with unpredictable and extreme weather. Immediate and detailed actions are called for in the construction safety area.
Changes in climate are precarious because of their uncertainty. Safety measures also should be more aggressive to prepare for worst-case scenarios. Even as overall snowfall declines, construction designs should be toughened as heavy snow can strike certain areas beyond sustainable levels.
The country must be better prepared for storms of snow and rain. The patterns, size and paths of typhoons that approach the Korean Peninsula have become unpredictable, changing as sea temperatures rise due to global warming. Administrative actions and safety manuals on torrential rain and landslides also must be updated as part of fundamental solutions.
The collapse of a roof in a Gyeongju resort was not simply caused by humans. It is a strong warning from Mother Nature. Climate change should return to the political agenda, and the government must join up with various engineering and environmental experts to come up with new safety guidelines and measures against climate change.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 20, Page 30