Justine’s Climate Story
Seoul, South Korea
How are you sensing climate change?
Every summer that my mother and I have visited Korea to see family, we have strategically planned our trip around the two characteristic weather phenomenon that make up a Korean summer: the sweltering humidity and heat of August, and the never-ending rain of jang-ma, or the rainy season, during which monsoons and typhoons spend about two weeks subjecting the entire country to heavy spatterings of water, strong gales of wind, and thick layers of gray clouds.
This year, for the first time, I spent all three months of the summer in Seoul, and shared the lived experience associated with these weather patterns, spending about two weeks in July and almost the entirety of August ducking into a building whenever I could to escape either the constant rain or boiling heat. As with any area that has clear seasons and relatively consistent changes in weather from year to year, Korea was well prepared for both these events: during the rainy season, for instance, convenience stores always kept a full stock of disposable ponchos and umbrellas for those unfortunate souls who had left their protective gear at home. This summer, however, jang-ma didn’t restrict itself to just two weeks in July. On August 8-9, torrential rains came over Seoul, causing large scale floods and the highest rainfall that the city had seen in 80 years.
During this couple of days, the city seemed to be shut down. As subway stations swelled with water and cars floated down the streets, the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced roads quieted to an eerie silence; it felt as if the gray clouds of the regularly scheduled rainy season had come back on their own accord. It was dangerous to go outside, and 9 people were killed by the floods. My family and I were lucky and grateful to have a place to stay that was above the water – many family homes and buildings were damaged by the rain. Semi-basement homes, which are a common structure in Seoul, were overcome with water, causing many to be displaced.
How do these changes make you feel?
It wasn’t the first time I had been subjected to a crazy weather event – I am from New Jersey and still remember the effects of Hurricane Sandy – but it was the first time I had experienced such a massive aberration from what the perceived weather norms were, and I am positive that the floods were an effect of climate change. I fear the inevitable inclement weather that will come in the future for climate change, the lives it will cause damage to, and the notion that one day we may not be able to have any sense of what the weather may be on a given day, month, or year.
Seoul, South Korea
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