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Climate - South Korea

Temperature, rainfall, prevailing weather conditions, when to go, what to pack

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Flag - South Korea

The climate of the Republic of Korea (or South Korea) is cold but sunny in winter, while it’s hot and sultry with abundant rainfall in summer. Spring and autumn are quite short but pleasant. The latitude of the country is not high: the border with North Korea is located on the 38th parallel, but the winter is cold because of the prevailing winds from Siberia.
South Korea is affected by the Asian monsoon regime, so that in winter, cold air masses from the Asian continent prevail, while in summer, warm and moist air masses from South-Eastern Asia move frequently over the country. In the second part of summer and in early autumn, it can be reached by typhoons.
The precipitation pattern is the opposite to that of the Mediterranean climate: the driest period is winter, while the rainiest months are July and August.
Here is the average precipitation in Seoul.
Average precipitation Seoul
Seoul J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 20 25 45 75 100 135 330 350 140 50 55 25 1345
Days 7 6 7 8 9 10 16 14 9 7 9 7 108

The total annual rainfall is significant, spanning generally from 1,200 to 1,500 millimetres, with the exception of the southern coast, which can reach 1,700 mm, as well as the northern inland regions, which can go down to 1,000 mm, and also for some particularly sheltered valleys like that of Daegu (or Taegu), which do not exceed 1,000 mm per year.

Winter it’s cold, with average temperatures below freezing in the north and in inland areas, while it’s milder, but still with night frosts along the southern coast. The sun often shines, and sometimes snow can fall, but it’s relatively rare and not abundant. The wind often blows from the continent, cold, dry and sometimes full of dust. Thanks to the greater exposure to cold winds of Siberian origin, at a given latitude the winter is colder on the west coast than on the east coast. The average January temperature exceeds 0 degrees Celsius only on the southern coast, while on the east coast it's around freezing even in the north. The interior is obviously colder than the coastal areas, in fact in the north-central inland area the average temperature in January is around -4 °C, as we can see from the temperatures of Chuncheon.
Chuncheon average temperatures
Chuncheon J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -8 -6 0 5 11 16 21 20 15 7 1 -5
Max (°C) 0 3 10 17 23 26 28 28 24 18 10 2

The capital Seoul is located near the coast, but in the north-west, which is the most exposed region to cold winds, and its average temperature in January is -2.5 °C.
Seoul average temperatures
Seoul J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -6 -4 1 7 13 18 22 22 17 10 3 -3
Max (°C) 2 4 10 18 23 27 29 30 26 20 12 4

At Seoul, the Yellow Sea is very cold in winter, but warms up a lot in summer, reaching 24 °C in August.
Sea temperature Seoul
Seoul J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 5 5 5 8 13 17 22 24 23 19 14 9

In the southernmost cities like Mogpo and Busan (or Pusan), the climate is much milder, and the average temperature in January goes up to around 3 °C.
Busan average temperatures
Busan J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -1 1 5 10 14 18 22 23 19 14 8 2
Max (°C) 8 9 13 18 22 24 27 29 26 22 16 10

At Busan, and along the southern coast, the sea is much less cold in winter, while in summer it gets a bit warmer than in Seoul, reaching 26 °C in August.
Sea temperature Busan
Busan J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 14 13 13 14 17 20 23 26 24 21 19 16

The southern island of Jeju (or Cheju) is even milder, and its average temperature in January is about 5/6 °C.
Jeju average temperatures
Jeju J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 3 3 6 10 14 18 23 24 20 15 9 5
Max (°C) 8 9 12 17 21 25 29 30 26 21 16 11

During cold spells, the temperature can drop to -20 °C in Seoul and the northern inland areas, and around -10 °C in the south, while it drops only a few degrees below 0 °C in Jeju-do.
The north-eastern regions are mountainous, and in addition to being freezing cold, they are also quite snowy. The northeast coast, though milder, is a little wetter in winter: during winter the average monthly precipitation along the north-east coast is about 45/60 mm, while in Seoul and in southern cities like Sokcho and Gangeung (or Kangung) it's about 20/25 mm. Even the south-west coast, where the city of Mogpo (or Mokp'o) is located, and the island of Jeju, are a bit more rainy and less sunny. On the southern coast, however, snowfalls are rare, due to the higher temperature and also to the fact that in periods of bad weather the wind blows from the south.


Spring, from March to May, is initially cool, and gradually becomes milder, but even the rains become more frequent, due to the formation of low pressure systems.

Summer is hot, humid and rainy. The high humidity makes the weather sweltering, especially in July and August. Rainfall can be heavy especially in July and August. Two thirds of the annual rainfall occurs in summer. However, between periods of bad weather, there can also be sunny days, which may be hot.

During the summer, especially in August, but sometimes even in July or September, South Korea can be hit by typhoons. Typhoon is the name given to tropical cyclones in East Asia. Typhoons are accompanied with large amounts of rainfall and strong winds, and usually cause the greatest damage on the south coast.

Autumn is pleasant, especially in the month of October, in which the maximum temperatures are around 20/22 °C. Autumn is generally less rainy than spring.

When to go

Considering both the cold winter and the hot and rainy summer, the best times to visit South Korea are spring and autumn, especially the months of May and October, with a preference for October because it's less rainy.
As we have seen, the sea is warm enough for swimming from July to September, especially in the south-central.

What to pack

In winter: for Seoul and the north-central, warm clothes, down jacket, gloves, scarf, hat. For the south, Mogpo and Busan, warm clothes, sweater, jacket; scarf, gloves and hat for the evening, possibly a raincoat or umbrella.
In summer: light clothes, of natural fibres, light raincoat or umbrella, scarf for the wind, light sweatshirt for air-conditioned places.
In homes and temples, it is customary to remove shoes before entering: it can be useful to bring shoes without laces, or at least easy to take off.

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