Sochi doesn’t. With an average February temperature of 50 ˚F and streets lined with palm trees, the subtropical Black Sea resort town seems an odd place to host the Winter Olympics. But these games, which open on Friday, may offer a glimpse of a dreary future for winter sports—thanks to climate change.
Sochi’s alpine events will be contested in the nearby Caucasus Mountains, where winter temperatures are on average below freezing, but are unpredictable. As a result, Sochi’s organizers have to be ready to make their own wintry conditions. Their contingency plans are epic. They have 400 snow cannons that have misted 230 million gallons of water. If that’s not enough, they’ve also been stockpiling reservoirs of snow under blankets on the north face of mountains for years.
But Sochi’s massive preparations may eventually become the Olympic norm. According to a study by a team of climatologists at the University of Waterloo of the 19 previous Winter Olympic sites, only 10 will be reliable hosts in 2080—and that’s the best-case scenario under which carbon emissions are swiftly curtailed. Previous locations such as Innsbruck in Austria, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, and the two most recent hosts—Vancouver and Sochi—will not have enough snow cover to host elite events at least once a decade, even if assisted by artificial snow. It simply won’t be cold or dry enough for the snow machines to work.
Lauren Morello, writing for Nature News:
The competition has already been shaped by the vagaries of weather and climate, beginning with the decision decades ago to move figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey and curling indoors, says Daniel Scott, a geographer at the University of Waterloo in Canada. His research suggests that the pool of locations capable of hosting the games will shrink as the climate warms—and the colder mountain cities that may be the best fit may not have the infrastructure to handle a massive influx of athletes, spectators and organizers. That will force some difficult decisions, he says. “It’s an interesting dilemma the International Olympic Committee will be caught in.”
It’s looking like they’ll have an unenviable task in the coming years—even countries like Norway that have hosted more than one competition in the past could be risky bets. And it could get a lot tougher if nothing is done to curb carbon emissions: In that case, the same conditions scientists predict for 2080 could happen just 40 years from now.