Winter Olympics under threat… from climate change

Most cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will be too warm to host the Games of the future, a University of Waterloo study finds.

Only six of the previous Winter Olympics host cities will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by the end of this century if global warming projections prove accurate, according to researchers from the University of Waterloo and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria.

The average February daytime temperature of Winter Games locations has steadily increased – from 0.4°C at Games held in the 1920-50s, to 3.1°C in Games during the 1960-90s, and 7.8°C in Games held in the 21st century.

The study finds that internationally renowned Olympic sites like Vancouver, Canada, Squaw Valley, USA, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and Sochi, Russia will no longer have climates suitable to reliably host the Games by the middle of the 21st century. With additional warming projected for later decades of this century, as few as six former host locations would be suitable.

The study also examines how technological advancements and strategies developed over several decades have been used to manage weather risk at the Winter Olympics. Technology like snowmaking, track/jump refrigeration and high-resolution weather forecasting are now critical components of staging a successful Winter Games. It would be difficult these days to imagine a Winter Games exclusively on natural ice and snow, as it was in the early days of the Olympic Winter Games, says Dr. Robert Steiger of the Management Center Innsbruck.

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