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Snow, cold snap lead to airport chaos in Jeju

Jan 12,2018
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A snowplow clears a runway at Jeju International Airport on Thursday, where more than 100 flights were canceled or delayed because of the snow. [YONHAP]
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Passengers on delayed flights hunker down in Jeju International Airport on Thursday as they wait for status updates for their flights. More than 5,000 people were stranded at the airport on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Snow in Jeju Thursday morning led to more than 100 canceled or delayed flights and left over 5,000 people stranded for hours as a cold spell hit the country.

From around 8:30 a.m. to 11:10 a.m., nearly 90 flights were canceled and 30 were delayed at Jeju International Airport, which had to dispatch some 10 snowplows to clear runways covered with more than 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches) of snow.

At least 14 flights into Jeju had to turn back mid-flight to their original destinations.

At around 11 a.m., there were 5,050 people stuck at the airport.

But flights continued to be canceled past noon and by 1:30 p.m., a total of 129 flights into and out of Jeju were canceled.

At 6:30 p.m., the runways were shut down once again because of snow.

Early Thursday, a few flights at domestic airports - Gimpo, Gwangju, Gunsan, Gimhae, Ulsan, Daegu and Cheongju - were also canceled.

The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) issued cold wave warnings through most of the country by Thursday morning, and heavy snow warnings and advisories for the southwest regions including Muan County and Mokpo in South Jeolla, Gunsan in North Jeolla and Jeju.

Cold wave warnings are issued when the temperature on a morning drops more than 15 degrees Celsius below the temperature of the previous morning and falls below 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit); or when the lowest temperature on a morning is expected to be negative 15 degrees Celsius for two days in a row; or when accidents or infrastructure damage is expected from the rapid drop in temperature.

The temperature in Seoul around 7 a.m. Thursday morning dropped to as low as negative 12.6 degrees Celsius (9.3 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest this winter, with the real-feel temperature at negative 16 degrees, the KMA said.

The temperature in Mt. Seorak in Gangwon on Thursday morning dropped to as low as negative 24.1 degrees Celsius, with the real-feel temperature at negative 37 degrees Celsius.

The morning temperature in Jeju hit negative 1.6 degrees Celsius.

The only area in the country Thursday morning with a temperature above zero degrees Celsius was Mara Island, located a few kilometers southwest of Jeju Island. It had a temperature of 0.2 degrees Celsius.

It snowed 3.4 centimeters in Jeju, 19.1 centimeters in Gwangju, 18.5 centimeters in Mokpo in South Jeolla and 11 centimeters in Jeonju in North Jeolla from Wednesday to Thursday morning.

In South Jeolla, where areas have been hit with heavy snow and a cold spell for four days in a row, the heaviest snowfall in the four days was around 20 centimeters in Hampyeong, Naju, Yeonggwang and Muan counties.

Accidents took place on some icy roads. North Jeolla police said as many as 208 car accidents took place from Wednesday to Thursday morning, most of them cars having trouble with ice.

A bus slid on ice in Jeju City around 8:35 a.m. Thursday, hitting a curb and injuring 15 passengers. On Wednesday, 15 cars were involved in an accident on a road in Seogwipo, injuring three people.

Gwangju from Tuesday sprayed some 2,150 tons of deicing agents on some 170 roads to prevent cars from skidding. The city closed down all of its 306 kindergartens on Thursday and asked day care centers and kindergartens not to run buses.

The South Jeolla Education Office advised all 526 kindergartens in the province to close down for the day.

The KMA said more snowfall is expected on the southern coast of South Chungcheong over the night from Thursday to Friday.

It added that the temperature on Friday morning will be negative 15 degrees Celsius in Seoul, negative 11 degrees Celsius in Daegu, negative 9 degrees Celsius in Gwangju and negative 1 degree Celsius in Jeju. It said the cold spell will let up from Saturday afternoon.

BY CHOI CHOONG-IL, KANG CHAN-SU AND ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]