South Korea swarmed by yellow dust, but lower spring levels predicted

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The weather phenomenon called HwangSa -- also referred to as Yellow Sand or Asian Dust -- has been known to engulf cities in South Korea. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)
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The weather phenomenon called HwangSa -- also referred to as Yellow Sand or Asian Dust -- has been known to engulf cities in South Korea. (Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

South Korea swarmed by yellow dust, but lower spring levels predicted

by: Erik Slavin | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: February 24, 2015

South Korean meteorologists expect this year’s yellow dust season to be milder than recent years, despite an early coating during the past two days that spurred health advisories across the country.

The dust prompted the Korea Meteorological Administration to issue warnings in Seoul and several other surrounding cities Sunday, along with yellow dust advisories from Incheon in the north to Gwangju in the south.

High concentrations of the yellow dust particulates, which can cause respiratory illness, remained in the air through Monday afternoon.

Yongsan Garrison measured a high of 1,044 micrograms per cubic meter of air as of 4 a.m. Monday, according to the 65th Medical Brigade website.

At 800 micrograms or greater, KMA officials recommend that all outdoor activities be canceled during yellow dust warnings, and that the young, old and infirm stay indoors.

The dust typically comes from the Chinese and Mongolian deserts, potentially bringing along with it bacteria and industrial pollutants.

This week’s heavy dusting falls slightly out of the usual March to May season; however, Kim Yongjin, a senior KMA weather forecaster, said the agency expects a lower level of yellow dust than the country averaged between 1981 and 2010.

The prevailing winds in central and southern China are likely to undergo a cyclical change this year, Kim said. As a result, South Korea won’t experience the northwesterly winds that have worsened yellow dust levels in recent years, Kim said.

Western Japan also receives large concentrations of yellow dust in April and May, though generally not as much as South Korea. Japanese officials are particularly concerned about smaller PM2.5 particulates, which have been linked to lung cancer in scientific studies.

Japanese Environment Ministry safety guidelines warn residents to stay inside when PM2.5 levels exceed 70 micrograms per cubic meter on a daily average.

Air quality in Sasebo, Nagasaki and much of western and southern Japan remained moderate Monday, though Saga prefecture reported unhealthy levels for sensitive groups.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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