The only governmental organization in Korea that provides weather forecasting to the public is the Korea Meteorology Administration (KMA). This winter, there has been a series of heavy snowfalls that have never appeared before in the past 100 years. By not predicting the heavy snow, the KMA got a lot of criticism from the Korean public. Unlike its motto, "Sky as a friend, people as the sky" the KMA has been blamed for forecasting the weather uncorrectly. Kenneth C. Crawford, the vice-administrator of the KMA, explained what the reason is for the cold wave this winter, and why forecasting the weather is difficult. Also, he shared his opinions about the changing global weather these days.
Inside the KMA
Q. What does the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) basically do?
A. KMA's primary missions are weather forecasting and weather warnings. It is the weather forecasting and warning agency. Let me tell you a little about the differences between them. Weather warning is produced in a matter of hours and weather forecasting could go out two weeks to a month in advance. However, the most popular one, the one with the best accuracy goes out to the public at only about five days.
We also provide typhoon warnings from Jeju-do and do climate forecasts 90 days into the future. Also, we forecast compared to normal conditions, and collect all forms of climate and weather data as well as radar views. And those data are used in research, studies, and sometimes legal cases. KMA runs a radar network over 500 automated weather stations across Korea and a network of buoys on the coast line surrounding the peninsula. So, it is truly doing many jobs and compiling a lot of information related to weather forecasts. Everything is needed to produce a reliable weather forecast.
Q. What are the specific institutions or sub-organizations?
A. Inside the KMA, there is a group called NIMR, standing for the National Institute for Meteorological Research, which is the main sub-organization of the KMA. It is the closest organization that fulfills the KMA's purpose. They do research involved with climate change and urban meteorology for Seoul and cooperate with Seoul. At other times, they investigate yellow dust from China and the continuing invasion of yellow dust into Korea. They provide fundamental research on numerical models of the atmosphere. They are developing the next generation of numerical models. In other sub-organizations, they cover climate policy issues, collect and interpret feedback. Besides, they are developing ideas, concepts and plans of action for dealing with climate changes including that if the globe gets warm, what it means to Korea, or what is changing in Korea. They do not do any forecasts. There are groups which foretell and others which just plan strategies and policies like that.
Credibility of KMA
Q. It is believed that weather forecasting in Korea is quite difficult because the size of the country is small and it has four distinct seasons. However, Koreans are not satisfied with the forecasts that the KMA do. What is your opinion about that?
A. That is not that bad and is understandable. However, in my opinion, compared to the United States, they are really too harsh on the KMA. They are asking the KMA to go beyond the true state of meteorological science. It is like asking a medical doctor 50 years ago, "Can you cure my cancer?" One of the hardest things to do is forecasting quantitatively the amount of precipitation. And it gets even harder when precipitation changes over to frozen precipitation. That is why we could not predict the heavy snow this winter as well.
We appreciate their criticism. However, if it gets too harsh, it is often going to drive good people away from wanting to work here. As long as it is not too harsh, it is fair and needed. I would say that one of the merits of working at the KMA is to combat the people who are eager to criticize out there but one of the demerit of working at the KMA is the people who just criticize again and again out there. Their criticisms are appreciated, but their demands are beyond the science and modern technology.
Q. This winter, Korea had especially a lot of snow. It was not predictable. What is the reason why the KMA could not predict the heavy snow?
A. The amount of snow was verified at 25.4 centimeters, which is more than twice what was forecasted. We had no idea how much snow was coming, and we really did not know for sure the temperature profile.
When we measure precipitation, we have to measure the temperature of the sky by altitude. However, the higher the altitude is, the more difficult measuring temperature is. That is why the KMA could not predict the heavy snows this winter. And American forecasters make the same mistakes.
Technology the KMA Has
Q. Does the super computer do all the predictions? Or is there any other computer doing the weather forecast?
A. It is mainly the large super computers that predict weather. The super computers that the KMA has are No. 2 the super computer, which started operations in the year 2004. No. 1 the super computer was decommissioned in the same year. Now the building for No. 3 super computer is ready, and they are moving parts of the super computer into the building right now, and it will be tested and evaluated. Then, No. 2 super computer and three are going to start working in parallel, and verify that they both produce the same result, and while No. 3 super computer is still in its infancy, No. 2 super computer will be the back bone. And when No. 3 is commissioned, which will be somewhere around this fall, No. 2 super computer will be decommissioned.
Then there are weather radars across the country which help with our predictions. The KMA has ten weather radars across the country, and they send data in ten minute intervals. And that interval will be moved to five minute intervals soon.
Also, there are buoys around the peninsula, to help us measure the heights of the waves. All of this helps us to improve the accuracy of our weather predictions and models.
Q. Compared to other countries, how is the national support and potential in its technical skills?
A. Koreans have very good super computers compared to the United States. I am not sure about the Europeans but they would probably have the best technology, and the United States will probably be somewhere around fourth or fifth. Koreans are somewhere between the Europeans and Americans, but the Americans focus on the short term, high impact measures. The Koreans do not have that system yet, but adopting the situation is the goal while I am here.
Conspiracy and Rumors About Weather
Q. In connection with the cold wave this winter, there are scientific opinions about it for the next 20-30 years. What does the KMA think about that?
A. Some people call it a mini ice age, but the meteorologists do not call it that. We just call it an extremely cold winter. The globe has been warming, and there can be fluctuations of temperature in any given year. In the case of this year, the temperature was very low in the fluctuation.
Q. There are people who believe that the global warming is a lie. What is the KMA? opinion about that?
A. The globe is warming. Humans have helped cause that. We are going to warm anywhere from three Celsius degree to maybe four or five in your life time. If we warm three Celsius degrees for the globe, that does not sound like much, but it is a lot. Because three degrees Celsius means the ocean will be three degrees Celsius warmer, meaning that the land is going to be at least three degrees Celsius warmer. And it leads the oceans to evaporate more moisture into the atmosphere, causing a storm that is capable of delivering much greater rainfall in a short period of time. After that, the dry areas get drier and the wet areas get wetter. Because of that, there will be people who are starving to death due to the lack of water.