Vehicles pass through a downtown covered in snow in Buk-gu, Gwangju, on Thursday morning (Yonhap)
Heavy snow that fell overnight combined with a cold wave have disrupted travel in South Korea, snarling traffic on icy roads, suspending rail services and canceling flights.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, heavy snow began to fall in Seoul from around 7 p.m. the previous day and recorded 13.7 centimeters of snow as of 1 p.m. on Thursday. Temperatures in the city dropped to minus 16.5 degrees Celsius.
As roads became icy and cars slowed down, traffic slowed to an average of 19 kilometers per hour in Seoul on Thursday morning. Traffic speeds typically range between 20 and 25 kilometers per hour, according to police.
Cold weather also led to a breakdown of trains in various subway stations in the Seoul metropolitan area, causing confusion on the way to work.
At 7:25 a.m., the subway train to Soyosan in Gyeonggi Province, on Seoul’s Line 1, broke down and later resumed operation at 8:07 a.m. Due to the suspension, trains passing between Seoul Station and Cheongnyangni Station on Line 1 were all delayed.
On Seoul’s Line 4 at 7:50 a.m., the train to Danggogae in northern Seoul, which was passing by Gileum Station, also broke down and was temporarily suspended.
A Korail official said, “The train is being sporadically delayed as the cold weather freezes some train doors and track converters.”
Airlines have also canceled flights due to snow.
According to the Korea Airports Corp., airlines canceled 73 flights as of 1 p.m. due to strong wind and snow accumulated on the runway of Jeju Airport.
As of 1 p.m., 1 centimeter of snow per hour was falling and winds were blowing at about 20 meters per second at Jeju Airport. Wind is expected to continue to be strong across Jeju Island, at 10-18 meters per second by the dawn of Sunday, the KMA predicted.
Nationwide, the cold spell is expected to peak Friday morning and continue until the weekend, said the KMA. Temperatures in Seoul are to drop to minus 17 degrees Celsius on Friday.
The Ministry of Public Administration and Security raised the level of response of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters to the second stage Thursday. This is the first time this winter the second stage has been in operation. The level of response is divided into three stages -- caution, alert and severe -- and is raised in the case of a severe storm, flood or heavy snow.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun urged related ministries Wednesday night to “actively adjust the time to work to avoid traffic congestion on the way to work,” and encouraged private institutions and organizations to participate.
He also gave an emergency order to perform snow removal work promptly to prevent traffic confusion. Currently, snow removal work is underway with 17,293 personnel and 8,235 vehicles.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com