Note: The KMA have removed their public XML feed for yellow dust levels, making the plug-in useless. I’m working on other options, and will update if I find another data source.

Anyone who’s visited Korea (or, indeed, any place in north-east Asia) in the spring will be familiar with the hideous Asian dust (also called yellow dust or yellow sand). Every year, fine dust from the Gobi Desert gets whipped up by storms, is carried by the prevailing winds over some of China’s pollutant-spewing heavy industries and then migrates across the seas to Korea and Japan where we breathe the stuff in. It can cause eye irritation, breathing problems, possible long-term effects from all the heavy metal pollution and leaves a vile taste in your mouth.

Both the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) and the U.S. Army 65th Medical Brigade monitor dust levels, but I don’t always remember to check the websites before leaving the house. I therefore decided to write a simple add-on for Firefox that would display the current dust levels and give me real-time information.

Hwangsa icon

The add-on appears as a small icon in the Firefox status bar, with the current dust level (in μg m-3) as a number and the level of health concern as the background colour. The colours are taken from the U.S. Army 65th Medical Brigade information card:

μg m-3 Concern Advice
—- No data No data
0-99 Good None
100-199 Moderate At-risk personnel reduce prolonged / heavy exertion
200-399 Unhealthy Reduce prolonged / heavy exertion; at-risk personnel limit outdoor activity to bare essentials
400-799 Very unhealthy Limit outdoor physical activity to bare essentials; at-risk personnel avoid all outdoor activity
≥800 Hazardous Remain indoors

The dust data is taken from the KMA website, which has the local levels for 28 stations around South Korea. Users can choose their closest station in the preferences window, and can also alter the pop-up images. Hovering the mouse over the dust level icon will either show the 5-day trend in dust levels at the local station, or a satellite image of the regional dust concentration (current conditions, or 12- 24- or 48-hour forecast).

Firefox 3.5.4, Windows XP

Firefox 3.5.4, Windows XP

You can install this add-on from its entry at the Add-ons for Firefox website. It is classed as “experimental” as it has not yet accumulated enough user feedback to show up on public searches (and, since it is only useful to a small subset of the online community, may never do so).

Please add a comment if you have any feedback or suggestions (I would especially like to get a Korean translation finished), either here or on the add-on page.