As the COVID-19 pandemic has been drawn out for over a year, it seems this winter has been unusually long and cold in South Korea. The cold snap has gripped the country with a lot of snow, with temperatures plummeting to around minus 10 degrees Celsius. This winter, North Korea has also delivered the news about cold wave and heavy snow quite often. Is there any official weather agency in North Korea, like the Meteorological Administration in the South? Here is lawyer Oh Hyun-jong to answer.
The State Hydro-Meteorological Administration is North Korea’s national weather service. On July 10, 1946, the North Korean Provisional People’s Committee established the Central Meteorological Organization under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The organization came directly under the Cabinet in 1952 and was reorganized as the State Hydro-Meteorological Administration in 1961. It became an independent agency in 1995.
Currently, it has weather observation stations in cities and counties as well as various research centers.
Initially, its main job was to monitor precipitation, as its name indicates. In August 1996, it completed the construction of a weather satellite reception station, which enabled the agency to make medium-and long-range weather forecasts more quickly and accurately. It is said to have exchanged hydro and meteorological information and data on environmental pollution and South-Pole exploration projects with other countries. It has also conducted technology exchanges and joint research projects with international organizations, including the World Meteorological Organization. In doing so, North Korea seeks to obtain advanced technology and train talented individuals in science and technology.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shows particular interest in the State Hydro-Meteorological Administration. He inspected the weather agency in June 2014 to become the nation’s first leader to do so. The first government agency that entered the Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang under the leader’s instruction was none other than this organization. Why does the leader pay so much attention to the weather service?
North Korea has been vulnerable to flooding due to reckless deforestation and poor drainage. In summer last year, Unpa County in North Hwanghae Province was hit hard by flooding, with hundreds of hectares of farmland submerged, although the region had prepared for torrential rains. Leader Kim Jong-un visited there twice in August last year.
Considering that North Korea suffers an enormous economic loss from flooding every year, the country finds it all the more necessary to prepare for possible disasters through accurate weather predictions.
When the leader visited the State Hydro-Meteorological Administration in 2014, he inspected many rooms and facilities there and examined projects related to weather observation and forecasts. At the time, he strongly criticized the agency for making incorrect forecasts too often. He stressed that accurate weather forecasts could protect people’s lives and property from natural disasters. He also stressed it could prevent the agricultural and fisheries industries from suffering damage. The leader ordered the agency to overhaul its system and raise the level of the weather forecasting system.
Under the leader’s instruction to increase the precision of weather forecasts, the North Korean weather agency focused on modernizing its system by using scientific methods. The result was a new weather service that incorporates information technology. It provides weather information in major regions through a mobile phone app and even a weather service dedicated to specific sectors such as agricultural and maritime industries.
The State Hydro-Meteorological Administration reportedly developed a weather service late last year, using the mobile communication network. It provides weather information in real-time to mobile phone subscribers. The information includes current weather conditions, short and medium-range forecasts, coastal and maritime weather predictions, satellite images that show where a typhoon was formed, where it is heading now and where it is expected to go. Using bar graphs, tables and scatter charts, it offers weather information in major cities, such as expected highs and lows, precipitation by the hour, day and month, temperatures of the earth’s surface and those in subterranean areas. It also provides information about seasonal weather conditions associated with farming as well as farming techniques.
Weather information needed for marine activities like fishing is available as well. North Korea also developed a program called “Weather 2.0” that shows disaster warnings against heavy rain, strong wind, floods and tidal waves to computers connected to the national network.
However, many residents in North Korea still depend on weather forecasts of the state-run TV rather than use a mobile app because they cannot use the Internet freely. Notably, the weather program of the Korean Central TV has changed its presentation style in an interesting way since last year. Previously, the presenter simply explained charts. But in a major change, the weather broadcast started using updated graphics to provide viewers something fun to watch and hear.
The Korean Central TV in the North airs its news program at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., followed by a weather report. During the years of former leader Kim Jong-il, the weather forecaster would simply read the script in a rigid style while sitting down. But things changed under the rule of the current leader. From April 27, 2019, a young, female forecaster stood up in front of a large screen to deliver weather information. She used hand gestures and also provided health-related information. She looked so natural that viewers might mistake the program for South Korea’s.
Also, officials at the State Hydro-Meteorological Administration appeared on TV and explained torrential downpours against the background of the situation room. In addition to this new format, the TV station has also created a new corner, “State Hydro-Meteorological Administration Notice,” to inform viewers of weather changes moment by moment.
For North Korean residents, weather information is directly related to their survival. That’s because damage from flooding or heavy snow may lead to a poor harvest, food shortages and even the spread of infectious diseases.
So, how accurate are North Korean weather forecasts? Years ago, South Korea installed huge loudspeakers along the border with North Korea to blare anti-Pyongyang broadcasts, K-pop music and weather reports as well. At the time, it is said that North Korean soldiers in the border regions liked to listen to the South Korean weather forecasts, which were more accurate than local ones.
As the North Korean leader pointed out, it is reported that the national weather service in the North is not very accurate in weather predictions.
It is difficult to know exactly how precise North Korean weather reports are. The country joined the World Meteorological Organization in 1975 but it has hardly ever participated in international cooperation programs. So, it is hard to figure out the exact situation inside the reclusive country. Above all, North Korea does not show its weather information to the outside world because the country regards it as sensitive military information. But considering the nation’s weather observation stations and relevant equipment, it is widely believed that the level of North Korea’s weather forecasts remains that of South Korea in the 1990s. There is no supercomputer or weather satellite in the North. Also, local residents, except those in big cities like Pyongyang, do not really trust weather reports. It is said that many people measure the temperatures with their own thermometers.
The national weather agency monitors weather conditions overall, but it is difficult - in reality - to make a precise prediction, like certain millimeters of rainfall in a region, with its own technology. The World Meteorological Organization released a report in 2011 after visiting the North’s weather agency. According to the report, North Korea’s weather equipment and prediction system are outdated and some 4 million dollars of international aid will be needed to improve them.
South and North Korea do not share weather information, although the two Koreas are under the influence of the same atmospheric conditions. North Korea believes weather information is strictly confidential. If North Korea uses South Korea’s supercomputers or data from the weather radar system at Baengnyeong Island, which borders North Korea, it can raise the accuracy of forecasts significantly. It seems necessary for the North to consider sharing weather data with its southern neighbor.