▲ Jeju residents who experienced snowfall as late as April may not believe that the island no longer experiences winter. Photo by Kim Hong Gu
You may not have noticed yet but there has been no winter in Jeju for more than 10 years.
The island had its biggest snowfall in recent years this past “winter,” you may wonder, and Mount Halla was left covered with thick snow for several months, yet Jeju has not had winter for 10 years? This writer, who felt betrayed by the island’s rather hollow promise to be “Korea’s Hawaii” whenever I shivered at storms blowing from the north is equally confused.
Winter has not visited Jeju Island since 2000, however, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. To deal with the apparent cognitive dissonance you may be experiencing now, you first need to understand how climatologists define winter.
Climatologists watch whether the five-day average temperature falls below 5 degrees Celsius during a given season to determine if it really qualifies as winter as defined scientifically. The five-day average temperature is obtained by averaging the daily average temperature of four days before and after a given date. That daily average temperature is calculated from averaging the 24-hour fluctuations of a given day’s temperatures. A cold spell or two does not scientifically classify as winter if the five-day average temperature fails to fall below the cut-off point.
According to a climate research paper published on May 24, Jeju Island’s winters lasted an average of 36 days from 1924 to 1933. Since the year 2000, however, the number of winter days on Jeju as defined scientifically has been zero.
The island’s winter usually started on Jan. 17 between 1924 and 1933 before it disappeared completely in 2000. The start of fall was Sept. 27 during that earlier period but is now considered to be Oct. 10, about 13 days behind schedule.
The prime suspect that is believed to have stolen winter from Jeju is global warming. The average temperature in Jeju is now 16.3 degrees Celsius year round, about 1.6 degrees higher than the period between 1924 and 1933. The average surface temperature of Korea’s southern seas has also risen by 1.7 degrees Celsius over the past 10 years according to data released on May 28 by the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration.
Korean waters are becoming increasingly crowded with sub-tropical fish stock including hammerhead sharks and purple octopus. It is not uncommon to hear news of fishing boats scoring a windfall by rounding up a school of tuna fish in the southern sea or near Jeju waters. Tuna did not appear in Korean waters until just a few years ago.
Jeju seems to be turning into more of a sub-tropical island year after year. For some islanders, including this writer who dreams of skiing down Mount Halla someday in the future, the news that Jeju has no winter anymore is sad. However, thanks to the huge difference of elevation throughout Jeju and the subsequent temperature differences between sea level and the top of Mount Halla, islanders will still be able to enjoy two seasons at the same time — winter up above and autumn down below.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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