Korea’s Climate

Category : Surviving in Korea / Travel/Events
Nov 26, 2014

Image from Korean Culture Center via Seoul

Korea’s Climate

 

When I first arrived in Korea a few years ago from Canada, my job recruiter kept expressing how interesting Korea is because it has four seasons. I had no idea why that was interesting because Canada has four seasons too. Apparently most countries only have two seasons. Another fun fact about the climate in Korea is that it is actually a temperate monsoon climate, which means it should be relatively warm like the rest of the places on the 38th parallel. However, Korea is simultaneously affected by a big mass of air from Siberia, cleverly named the Siberian Air Mass. Starting in December, this blob of air swoops over Korea drying and cooling everything in its path; hence why Korea has a cold winter. Let’s move on and get the nitty-gritty of each season.

 

Did you know?

Many Koreans feel that the seasons and weather is changing, like many other people around the world claim too. Some attribute the changes to global warming or climate change. Whatever is happening, many feel that spring and fall are becoming shorter and shorter. Hot weather in the summer and cold weather is the winter is lasting longer and starting earlier.

 

Four Seasons

Korea manages to have a decent number of months in each season, which is distinct. With nearly three months of each season, there is plenty of time to enjoy the hot, the cold, the warm and the cool without ever getting too fed up with any of it. It’s gone by time you’re in desperate need of a change.

 

Spring

Whenever spring arrives in Korea, it’s a treat for all. It begins in late March and lasts until early June. The temperatures hover between five and ten degrees until mid April, when it goes up to around fifteen degrees and continues rising. There isn’t much snow or rainfall at this time, so it’s an inviting season to be outside. The winds blow strongly from the west bringing Hwangsa Period (황사시기), also known as yellow dust season (read more about hwangsa shigi below). Furthermore the spring can bring suddenly cold periods called ggot-saem-chui /꽂샘추위.

 

Whenever spring arrives in Korea, it’s a treat for all. It begins in late March and lasts until early June.  Photo: ‘Jinhae Cherry Blossom’ by San Ng available at https://flic.kr/p/byrXvf under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

 

Summer

Korean summers are hot, humid and wet! June kicks off summer with comfortable mid-twenties temperatures and clear skies. In July the temperatures may reach 30 degrees and the humidity will set in along with the monsoon season (See more about the monsoon season below). The summer ends in September with a short period of comfortable and less humid temperatures leading into autumn.

 

Ulleungdo is the perfect island for summertime in Korea. Here you’ll find some of Korea’s clearest waters. Photo: ‘Port Taeha, Ulleungdo’ by Republic of Korea available at https://flic.kr/p/8vhZj3 under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

 

Autumn

Fall is spectacular – a great time to be outdoors! It lasts from mid September to the end of November. The temperature ranges between 10 and 20 degrees and it is the driest of all seasons. Nights are still cool in the autumn, particularly in the north, where there is usually frost.

 

 

Fall in Korea is spectacular – a great time to be outdoors! It lasts from mid September to the end of November. Photo: ‘Asan Gingko Tree Road’ by Travel Oriented available at https://flic.kr/p/htgEnX under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

 

Winter

Winter is cold, dry and sunny. If you haven’t experienced a winter climate before, Korea is the place for you! It begins in early December and lasts until early March. In the northern parts of the country the winters tend to be cold and dry. You will find that most days in the winter months will be below 0 degrees with reasonably light snowfall in December. The snowfall picks up in January and February in the north. If you are in the southern parts of the country for example in Busan, Gwangju or the south Islands, the average winter temperatures will be around 5 degrees.


 

You will find that most days in the winter months will be below 0 degrees with reasonably light snowfall in December. Photo: ‘Pyeongchang’ by Republic of Korea available at https://flic.kr/p/a3f8aF under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

 

Did you know?

Koreans describe the weather in the winter to be sam-han-sa-on /삼한사온. This translates to three days of cold and four days of warm. In the winter the weather after comes in patterns or waves of three very cold days and then four days which are less so. Now that you know you can check it out for yourself!

 

Climate Features

Monsoon Season (Jangma /장마)

It can rain for 30 to 40 days straight in the monsoon season. It’s called jangma, and it comes in July from the south and move North. Jeju and Ulleung Island are most heavily affected by the rains. The temperatures are often in the high-twenties or even thirties with a humidity index of 80% to 90%. You will be soaked to bone if you don’t carry a sturdy umbrella, and it can be fascinating to watch rain for days without break.

 

Yellow Dust (Hwangsa Shigi/황사시기)

One problem with the spring is yellow dust (also called Asian Dust, or in Korean, hwangsa shigi). At this time, strong winds blow from the west starting in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. The desert storms stir up dust and as it is carried by surface winds over Northern Asia the dust collects industrial pollutants along the way. This yellow dust can sometimes be a health hazard, especially on the west coast of Korea. The Korean government issues warnings when the Hwangsa is particularly bad. You can pick up a face mask at the pharmacy or convenience store if you are concerned about it.

 

The Taebaeksan Mountain Range

The Taebaeksan Mountain Range is a long range running from the top of North Korea to the bottom of South Korea. It essentially divides the east and the west. It also affects the climate. During the winter harsh cold fronts swoop in from Siberia, while in the spring strong dusty winds blow from Mongolia. The Taebaeksan Mountain range acts as a shield for the eastern part of the country. Cities like Sokcho, Busan and Ulsan are much warmer in the winter and they not experience spring winds like in the west. As well, Daegu a city in a basin of the range has hotter more humid summers and colder winters than some other parts of Korea. Hot and cold air gets trapped in the valley as it travels over the mountain range. This creates more extreme weather conditions in Daegu and the neighboring regions.

 

Jeju Island and the South Coast Regions

Jeju Island is a unique sub-temperate region that is a mix of temperate and tropical climates. You won’t experience frigid winters (around 10 degrees), and it always feels slightly tropical. It is also not unbearably hot in the summer. Two ocean currents keep the summers moderate and you will notice it can be raining on one side of the island while it’s sunny and clear on the other. In addition there are many unusual citrus fruits and palm trees that thrive on Jeju island because of the unique growing conditions.

 

The south coast of Korea and the islands there receive a much heavier downpour during the summer season. The monsoons come up from the South Pacific Ocean and reach the south coast first. As the storms travel upwards they tend to lose strength or die out.  Be prepared for extremely heavy rainfall in the summer if you travel or live in the South during July and August.

 

The North-South Temperature Gradient

Along with changing seasons, the temperatures from the north in North Korea, and even along the DMZ (the uninhabited land that separates North Korea from South Korea), are vastly different from the temperatures in the south of South Korea, even within a single season. For example, the average temperature in winter on Jeju Island is five degrees while the average temperature in the coldest region in Korea, Junggangjin, North Korea has an average of -20 degrees. That is a 26 degree temperature difference.  Keep in mind if you are in Seoul, Busan and Jeju Island within the same month the temperature and weather conditions can be surprisingly varied, especially between November and April.

 

What to Wear?

The varied seasons require a large wardrobe. If you are planning a short visit to visit Korea, pack according to the season. If you are coming to stay for an extended period over seasonal changes, make sure to bring all types of clothing (or plan to do lots of shopping!

).

Spring: You might experience some cold nights or days and unusually warm bursts so pack for both.

  • You need: crop pants and jeans/trousers, tights to wear with skirts, a light rain jacket and spring coat, a light scarf, thin sweaters to layer, long-sleeved and short-sleeved t-shirts, normal footwear, a cap, and sunscreen.
  • You don’t need: a heavy winter coat, a bathing suit, a knit cap, mittens/gloves, and winter boots.

 

Summer: It’s best to wear thin, breathable materials.

  • You need shorts, t-shirts, summer dresses and skirts, sandals, a bathing suit, a thin rain coat, a good umbrella, a cap, rain boots/water proof shoes, a thin sweater, sunscreen, and bug-spray.
  • You don’t need: a heavy raincoat-it’s too humid to wear a plastic jacket, warm materials.

 

Fall: You will find the days and evenings require warmer clothes. It’s good to layer.

  • You need: long pants, sweaters and hoodies, a warmer wool coat or jacket, a hat, a light scarf, thin gloves, normal footwear or short boots, t-shirts for warm days, and sunscreen.
  • You don’t need: shorts, thin shirts, a bathing suit, a heavy winter coat or heavy boots, a thick toque or gloves.

 

Winter: You won’t manage without thick winter materials.

  • You need: fall clothes plus a heavy coat (down feathers or fur), a warm knit cap and gloves, warm winter boots, long underwear, a thick scarf, and thick tights for skirts.
  • You don’t need: summer clothes or rain gear.

 

 

Seasonal Activities

The four seasons in Korea allow plenty of different outdoor activities.

 

Spring: This is a perfect chance to get outside after the cold winter.

  • Things to do: picnics and parks, flower festivals, driving, beach walking, biking, amusement parks

 

Summer: It’s the best time to head to the beach.

  • Things to do: swimming (pools and beaches), sun tanning, amusement parks, beach traveling, biking

 

Fall: The cool temperature makes it the time to get outdoors for rigorous physical activities.

  • Things to do: hiking, biking, walking/running, countryside traveling

 

Winter: If you’re into winter sports, you won’t be bored!

  • Things to do: skiing, snowboarding, skating, winter trekking

 

PUT A WEATHER CHART HERE- http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/ena/AK/AK_EN_1_1_2.jsp

 

To learn more about Korean weather, visit these links:

  • Visit Korea : A general overview of the climate in Korea and daily weather stats.

 

This chart shows the average temperature (in Celsius) and the average rainfall per month for the major cities in Korea.

 

Major Cities

Seoul

Busan

Daegu

Gwangju

Daejeon

Jeju

Month

C

R

C

R

C

R

C

R

C

R

C

R

January

-2.5

21.6

3

37.8

0.2

21.6

0.5

38

-1.9

29.5

6.6

59.4

February

-0.3

23.6

4.3

44.9

2.1

27.1

1.9

43.9

0.2

36.4

7.1

80.6

March

5.2

45.8

8.3

85.7

7.1

51.6

6.5

64.5

5.4

60.5

10.1

125.6

April

12.1

77

13.4

136.3

13.8

75.2

12.9

95.3

12.4

87.2

14.4

172.2

May

17.4

102.2

17.4

154.1

18.7

75.3

17.8

97.3

17.6

97

18.1

215.4

June

21.9

133.3

20.5

222.5

22.5

140.7

22

190.3

22

174.3

21.3

279.3

July

24.9

327.9

24.2

258.8

25.7

206.7

25.5

281.9

25.3

292.2

25.3

306.3

August

25.9

348

25.7

238.1

26.1

205.8

26.1

276

25.5

296.5

26.6

257.6

September

25.4

137.6

22.1

167

21.3

129.6

21.4

137.7

20.3

141.5

23.4

170.2

October

20.8

49.3

17.3

62

15.4

42

15.4

55.3

13.8

56.9

18.8

72.7

November

14.4

53

11.3

60.1

8.6

37.1

8.7

55.4

6.8

51.7

13.7

68.4

December

0.2

24.9

5.6

24.3

2.5

15.2

2.8

32.4

0.7

30.1

8.9

43.1

Tags : Korea. Weather. Season. Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.

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