Feb 9, 2018

PyeongChang Climate Extremes

South Korea
Climate Central
Image: Climate Central
Image: Climate Central

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea officially begin with the opening ceremony this Friday. Weather conditions such as temperatures, natural snowpack, and days conducive for making snow all have serious impacts on the quality of the games. For example, Vancouver (2010) saw snow melting quickly before the games began, and during the games in Sochi (2014), temperatures reached 68°F. While PyeongChang is expected to be extremely cold for the opening ceremonies, the long term trends show a shift away from the cold temperatures associated with the winter games.

Global temperature trends since 1924, the year of the first Winter Olympics, show that Februaries have already warmed an average of 1.01°C (1.82°F) worldwide (all but four Winter Olympic Games have taken place solely in the month of February). With warming continuing around the globe, past Winter Olympics sites may no longer be viable as hosts in the future. As we previously reported, only six of the 19 past Olympic host cities will be climatologically reliable for hosting the games by the end of the century in a business as usual emissions scenario. On average, previous host cities will see 2.1°C (3.8°F) of warming by the 2050s and 4.4°C (7.9°F) of warming by the 2080s under that scenario, and 1.9°C (3.42°F) and 2.7°C (4.86°F) of warming respectively with significant emission cuts.

Additionally, northern hemisphere snow cover extent is declining and glaciers are retreating. Not only is this bad for winter-based economies and the competitions themselves, it also makes reliable training locations difficult for athletes to find, forcing athletes to travel farther to train.