El Nino could forecast disaster for Olympics
By Kelly Sinoski and Mary Frances Hill, Vancouver Sun, July 9, 2009
VANCOUVER — The return of El Nino could wash out parts of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, weather forecasters say.
The global temperature fluctuation could result in warmer weather and a smaller snowfall, causing problems for the Games, which are set to kick off in February.
Meteorologist Mark Madryga said the climate phenomenon could mean warmer temperatures for the mountains surrounding Vancouver.
The Whistler peaks, the location for most of the Olympic events, would likely be spared, he said.
"If (El Nino) happens then chances are we would have a warmer-than-usual winter . . . that's not a good scenario for the Olympics," he said. "(But) it's still early in the game."
Vancouver Olympic officials said Thursday they aren't worried about El Nino.
Cathy Priestner Allinger, the Vancouver Olympic Committee's executive vice-president, said officials are working with Environment Canada to monitor weather patterns.
She said Olympic organizers have alternatives in place, should El Nino strike.
"As weather planning is always a high priority for a winter Games, we consider a number of different weather scenarios in our contingency planning to ensure that we are prepared to successfully stage the Games," she said in a statement.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday the surface temperature along a narrow band in the eastern Pacific Ocean climbed at least 1 C above normal as of July 1, suggesting El Nino was on its way.
Temperatures in other tropical regions are also above normal, according to the administration's website.
El Nino, the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, typically comes every two to five years and lasts 12 months.
Administration forecasters said they expect this El Nino to continue strengthening through the winter of 2009-10, which could mean warmer and drier conditions for B.C.
Environment Canada meteorologist Gabor Fricska said B.C. typically experiences higher than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation levels when El Nino sweeps through.
Since 2002, there have been three El Ninos, which alter the jet stream, changing the type of flow of air coming off the Pacific. If it's weak, or a small deviation from normal, it won't have much of an effect.
The last strong El Nino to sweep through B.C. was in 1997-98, delaying the start of the ski seasons on many Vancouver mountains with no snow falling until the end of December.
The 1997-98 El Nino was a major concern for Nagano Winter Olympics officials, after the region didn't get any significant snow until January 1998, a month before the Games were to begin.
Organizers hailed the first significant snowfall of the year as "snow of mercy."
Temperature may be the most significant factor for the success of the Olympics, since machines can make snow but warm weather will hurt the snow's quality.