Getting caught unawaresThe country has been grappling with an intense cold wave and blizzards in some regions, making life more unbearable for the poor, elderly and homeless.
The mercury in Seoul plunged to minus 18 degrees Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit) or minus 24 when the wind chill factor is counted, the coldest in 14 years. Hundreds of people were stranded on the southern resort island of Jeju, which was hit by its worst blizzard in 30 years. Runways were closed throughout the weekend.
Sea travel also was stopped and many homes and restaurants are going without water due to frozen pipes. The surprise cold spell has hit the country hard.
The nasty chill arrived suddenly after an unusually warm winter. The average temperature in December was 3.5 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1973. The temperature was also above average in the United States, where many parts didn’t have a white Christmas but had an almost summery holiday.
Weather experts attributed the warm winter to a mix of the El Nino and global warming. But the climate suddenly reversed due to the arrival of the polar vortex, a blast of counterclockwise winds around the Arctic that pushed a gush of cold air southbound.
The unwelcome visitor from the Arctic is said to be a part of climate changes from global warming.
Natural disasters are beyond man’s control. We can only minimize the damage through precise forecasting and thorough preparation. The government sent out text messages advising people around the capital to prepare for a cold snap.
But the message via cell phones did not reach many. Jeju Airport turned into mayhem because passengers were not informed of flight cancellations. Tens of thousands had to sleep on the floor while some had to stay in their plane, stranded on the snowy runway for hours. The government again did not respond well in an emergency situation. This has become a pattern.
Experts predict climate volatilities will become more severe. Authorities need to prepare well for unusual weather phenomena not only during the summers but in winters as well.
The central and local governments, private and public sectors and military must work together to combat weather challenges while enhancing accuracy in forecasts.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 25, Page 30