USFK prepares for monsoon season
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Rainy days can do more than dampen a sunny disposition during monsoon season in South Korea, U.S. officials warn.
Monsoon season began this month, which means servicemembers and civilians on the peninsula should be prepared for unexpected heavy storms and flash flooding. South Korea’s topography and the nature of monsoons can make the weather worse than a simple heavy rain, officials warn.
“Know that monsoons can be deadly. These are not light rains, at times they are torrential,” wrote Henry Paul Stuart, operations division chief for the Installation Management Agency, Korea Region, in a prepared statement to Stars and Stripes about monsoon safety.
South Korea’s monsoon season is characterized by intense rain and flash flooding, said weather forecast specialist Yoon Won-tae from the Korea Meteorological Administration. “Monsoon” refers to shifting winds that can carry heavy rains over parts of Asia during the summer.
In the past few years, monsoons have caused almost 1,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage in South Korea, he said.
In 2002, monsoon damage was close to $5 billion, according to the KMA’s Web site.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in 1998 from mudslides and high water from monsoon rains, Stuart wrote. That same year, more than 300 South Koreans died as a result of the rains, Yoon said.
In the Jiri Mountains, an area with an average annual rainfall of about 51 inches, 39 inches fell within 19 days that year, Yoon said.
The flooding knocked out Quonset huts on Camp Red Cloud, destroying the base’s museum and several offices, and caused about $125 million in damages to bases in the area, according to news reports.
In 1999, a Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army died as a result of high water.
Flooding in subsequent years has destroyed cars, buildings and facilities on military installations around the peninsula.
Area commanders have instituted flood-prevention programs in response, including realigning flood channels, installing floodgates and retaining walls and creating retention basins, according to news reports.
Commanders also created phased response and warning level systems to be more prepared for the dangers.
Yoon said this year is forecasted to have normal rainfall for the season, although a little more rain than in previous years already has fallen.
Despite a few recent years of light monsoon seasons, servicemembers in South Korea should note the gravity of the season, officials said. “When a heavy rain alert is issued, take it seriously,” Stuart wrote. “Know that in Korea low-lying areas can be inundated very quickly.”
During rains, avoid rushing water, streams and ditches as well as dirt roads beside water, Stuart wrote.
“They may give way and a person may find him [or] herself in extremely dangerous waters.”
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.
According to scientists at the University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources in Lincoln, Neb., the word “monsoon” describes the shift of winds during the summer that brings wet air in from the cooler ocean over dry, hot land. The result is rain, and plenty of it.
To guard against flash floods and other monsoon dangers, U.S Forces Korea has devised a flood warning system:
The warning system
Level 1: Initial flood readiness declared at the start of the season.
Level 2: Probable flooding warning and alert; indicates a potential for more than 5 inches of rain in five hours.
Level 3: Flooding is imminent, declared when forecasters expect 2 inches of rain in an hour or 4 inches in six hours.
The response phases
During flooding, the Installation Management Agency — Korea Region will follow these response phases:
(1) Preparation: During monsoon season, units assess facilities and practice emergency plans (Continuity Operations Plans).
(2) Warning: Based on weather forecasts, units decide whether they will activate destructive weather crisis teams and whether they should go into 24-hour operations. KORO will assess threats to facilities and take appropriate planning actions. Damage assessment teams and engineer teams from area departments of public works are put on alert.
(3) Action: During bad weather, destructive weather crisis teams and other emergency responders go into action, possibly placing sandbags, directing traffic and if needed, issuing search- and-rescue operations.
(4) Recovery: Damage is assessed and repairs made to reduce hazards.
(5) Lessons learned: KORO will make adjustments based on lessons learned.
— Juliana Gittler
U.S. and South Korean officials offer the following tips during flooding or flood warnings:
♦ During rains, avoid flooded areas and do not attempt to pass streams or flowing water. Avoid rushing streams and ditches, and avoid driving on dirt roadways that parallel either; the water could wash out the roads.
♦ During heavy rain alerts, avoid low-lying areas that have been marked as flood zones. An example is the vicinity of the Yongsan Bowling Alley. In 2003 monsoon rains flooded of a number of vehicles in this site, according to Henry Paul Stuart, operations division chief for IMA Korea Region.
♦ During rains, cars may hydroplane on watery roadways and visibility may be poor.
♦ Keep an eye on flood warnings via American Forces Network or, off base, Korean television and radio.
♦ Read and understand unit destructive weather plans and follow unit leaders’ instructions.
♦ If advised, evacuate immediately. Don’t wait for rain to stop.
♦ If you must be outside during winds, watch for falling tree limbs and debris.
♦ Avoid puddles in streets, which could be covering manhole covers electrified by touching disrupted underground power lines.
♦ Check around quarters for dead limbs and contact public works officials to remove them. Also check and clear rain gutters to prevent a backup that could cause leaks into quarters.
— Juliana Gittler