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Chief eyes greater role for weather agency

Stresses meteorological agency’s world-class capability in weather forecasting

Cho Seok-joon, a former TV weathercaster now at the helm of the national weather authority, said that his agency has an image problem.

Despite its overall capabilities, which he said ranks Korea among the world’s 10 advanced nations in weather forecasting, it is widely perceived by domestic audience as performing poorly.

“Meteorologists can predict weather conditions with only about 90 percent accuracy, even with the most powerful supercomputers and other cutting-edge technologies,” the administrator of Korea Meteorological Agency told The Korea Herald.

“Quite often, I feel that we are criticized for the impossible 10.”

The diagnosis underlines his confidence in the KMA’s computing power, observation and weather prediction capabilities, which he said have made gigantic leaps in the past decades.
Korea Meteorological Agency Administrator Cho Seok-joon speaks during a recent interview at his office in Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Korea Meteorological Agency Administrator Cho Seok-joon speaks during a recent interview at his office in Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

“Korea is one of only a few countries in the world that owns and uses a satellite and a supercomputer for weather forecasting,” he said.

The KMA, since 1999 has used a weather prediction supercomputer, which was upgraded for the third time last year. It also uses a geo-stationary satellite since last year.

It also boasts the world’s sixth-highest accuracy record in forecasting, although predicting the amount of precipitation, particularly in case of torrential rains, largely remains as a challenge.

That, however, is a challenge for meteorologists in any other countries, he said.

“I am very proud of our staff and try to make them feel the same way.“

Meteorologists are like doctors in the sense that they both save people’s lives, he went on.

It was this belief that made him devote four decades of his life to weather-related jobs.

The 58-year-old studied meteorology in Seoul National University, served his mandatory military service as a weather specialist for the air force, and in 1981, joined a local broadcaster KBS as a weathercaster.

After nearly 20 years of service at KBS, he stepped into the local weather industry and academia.

In February 2011, he became chief of the KMA.

Past experience across media, industry and academia allows him to see from a more objective point of view where the KMA should look at to improve its services and perception among the public.

“The accurate forecasting of weather, I say, is only half of our job. The other half is the delivery, in which we didn’t score high,” he said.

It is becoming even more important as the nation is to experience more abnormal climate phenomena under the influence of global warming. The KMA hopes to play a more active role to improve the nation’s disaster preparedness and its response afterwards, he added.

Last July, his agency has faced sharp criticism after torrential rains trenched Seoul, causing fatal landslides in its southeastern mountain of Umyeon.

Critics had pointed out the agency failed not only in predicting the downpour’s extreme amounts but also in informing, in a more active and responsible way, local authorities of the possibility of the landslides.

The KMA sent out text messages, warning about landslides, to officials of Seocho Ward Office, registered for such services, but the messages didn’t go through to the persons in charge.

“Weather forecasting is the very basic. It’s our daily routine,” he said. “We need to build on it and assume a greater role to help the country better cope with bigger issues, such as climate change, green growth of local economy, the possibility of earth quakes volcanic eruptions, various national security threats and so on.”

By Lee Sun-young (