The Winter Olympics are just around the corner. They will be held in “Sochi,” Russia. But as is the case with so many things in life, it is not that simple.
When we refer to the venue, we tend to mention Sochi in part because some of the events will be held there and in part because it is on most maps. But the Olympics will be held at more than one location, as is often the case.
The 2014 Winter Olympics, aka the XXII Olympic Winter Games will occur from the 7th to the 23rd of February in Sochi proper, on the Black Sea, and inland at Krasnaya Polyana.
Sochi is a resort city on the Black Sea coast with a subtropical climate, including rather mild winters. In February, the average low is 36.5 F, and the average high is 50.7 F. There will be no snow there. In fact, it may rain for part of the Olympics.
Krasnaya Polyana is inland, in the Caucasus Mountains. The base elevation there, where we find the Rosa Khutor ski resort, is 1,840 feet, with higher elevations along the ski slopes reaching over 7,600 feet.
Indoor events such as hockey will be held in Sochi, outdoor snow events will be held at the resort in Krasnaya Polyana.
This has caused some confusion in the on-line discussion of the games. First, it is true that early snows in the mountains failed to materialize this year, so there was concern there might be a snow-free Olympics. Second, if you look up the forecasts or research the climate of “Sochi” itself, you’ll find that it is expected to be mild there and that snow is just not something you see very often in Sochi. But the snow only has to fall in the mountains. It is perfectly OK if rain falls, mainly, on the plains along the Black Sea.
But, the discussion of snow at this or any other Olympic event, in light of Climate Change, is important. We have seen over the last five or ten years wild swings in snowfall amounts (or, for that matter, rain) in ski resorts all around the world. In reference to American ski resorts,
The roughly 300 small mom and pop ski resorts in the United States are emerging as the first victims of climate change. As snowpacks shrink, glaciers recede, and temperatures inch upward, these operations are merely trying to make payroll, which makes paying for more snowmaking, investing in renewable energy, or other strategies for addressing these problems, untenable. That’s according to three CEOs from the other end of the resort spectrum—Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole and Whistler Blackcomb—and it’s one of a litany of reality checks that punctuated two panel discussions at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Tuesday evening.
…research over several decades has shown 1.5- to 2-percent declines in snow in spring in North America, per decade. That might not sound like a precipitous change, but … this will translate into real losses for ski resorts at lower elevation and those in the warm ranges of the Pacific Northwest. “No one wants to come to the ski lodge when it’s drizzling out. Today, in the Pacific Northwest, where we have a lot of warm winters, maybe 30 to 50 percent of these ski areas have warm winters now,” [said Anne Nolin, professor of geosciences and hydroclimatology, Oregon State University], noting that a warm winter is one in which the average of one of the core winter months is 0 degrees Celsius or higher. “That will be pushed up to 70, 80 or even 100 percent of these areas having warm winters in 20 years.”
So, Krasnaya Polyana, the Sochi ski venue (and it is technically in the polity of Sochi) is subject to both warming from climate change and the kind of variation in precipitation and temperature that comes with the “new normal.” However, when discussing Sochi, or reading about it, please remember to keep in mind that there are “two Sochis” … a coastal subtropical resort area and a mountain venue with, normally, good snow.
The hosts have been making piles of snow, they stockpiled snow from last year (yeah, that’s a thing, apparently), and snow is in the forecast over the next several days at Krasnaya Polyana. Now, I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna about this, but the chances that there won’t be enough snow to have the games is low.
I’ll also quickly remind everyone that this uncertainty plagued Vancouver as well. Also, it was a problem at Lake Placid, but that is probably because in February Lake Placid tends to get, or so the local mythology says, a period of rain and ice storms.
And, generally, we may just have to live with the newly emerging but soon to be perennial problem that warm weather wrecks winter Olympics and hot weather menaces summer games. Perhaps we should build a Huge Dome and have all our sports in there.
Images and most of the facts courtesy of Wikipedia.
More on climate change HERE.
Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?