The 2010 Winter Games weather watchers
The 2010 Olympics mark a first for weather forecasters, the Winter Games’ chief meteorologist Chris Doyle says.
For the past three years, 14 countries, under the World Weather Research Program, have partnered to examine “now casting” using the 2010 Games as the project’s focus.
Now casting combines radar observations, computer models and forecasters’ expertise. The technique offers a greater frequency of short-term forecasts with more accuracy. Now casting will give Olympic event organizers two hours worth of minute-to-minute forecast, allowing them to efficiently plan events for the sport’s needed weather conditions, Doyle said. And it’s the first time in Olympic history meteorologists will utilize this system.
“We have so much observation [equipment] along the Sea-to-Sky corridor, that it sort of gives us a CAT scan of the area,” he said.
Mother Nature’s not being easy on the Games.
Last week, the weather phenomenon El Nino grew in strength, jumping from its moderate rating to strong, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of The Weather Underground, adding for the rating to stick El Nino’s characteristics must go unchanged for five months.
“This is just the start,” he said.
El Nino, which typically peaks around February, can bring one of two conditions to coastal mountains — a warmer, wet winter or a warmer, drier winter. This one is shaping up to be the latter, he said.
Vancouver can expect its average 4.8 C February temperature to rise one to two degrees and overall winter precipitation to drop by two inches, Masters said.
While the difference in temperature may be of little importance in Whistler, where the average February temperature hovers around -5.2 C at Creekside, it could be more damaging to Cypress Mountain, home of the snowboarding and freestyle events. During February, its average temperature is - 0.1 C.
El Nino can also push the average freezing level up by 300 to 500 metres, said David Jones, a senior meteorologist for Environment Canada.
“Which can be significant for the local hills,” Jones said.
Cypress usually has lower than average snowpacks during El Nino years, at approximately 95 millimetres during February, said UBC professor Dan Moore, FRBC Chair in Hydrology in the Department of Geography and the Department of Forest Resources Management.
No matter what weather pattern El Nino kicks up, Cypress’s snowboarding and freestyle events will have snow, Doyle said. The mountain has experienced snowpacks lower than a metre during past Februarys, but according to Environment Canada records it has never been washed out, he said.
His team of meteorologists are providing long-term forecasts to Cypress so the mountain can rev up its approximately $7-million worth of snow-making equipment. The mountain also boasts a 20-million-litre reservoir for snow making, from which the mountain has already started to make snow, Doyle said.
“As soon as it hits below zero and there’s less than 100 per cent humidity they are going to make snow and store it,” Doyle said, adding man-made snow is denser than nature’s version and stores well under tarps.
In the past 10 years Joffrey Koeman, Cypress Mountain’s director of sales marketing, has worked at the mountain, he’s never seen a winter snowfall that couldn’t accommodate the Olympic events. By February the mountain averages more than two metres of snow at its base.
The mountain has bulked up its snow-making crews and during the Games they’ll work around the clock to ensure event requirements are met, he said.
The snow-making equipment, which was put in specifically for the Games and sits between the 915- and 1,200-metre elevations, can create a metre of snow for all the mountain’s Olympic venues, Koeman said. Even if Mother Nature spits out her worst, the Games will go on.
2010 forecasting team
The Winter Games chief meteorologist Chris Doyle and his team of 35 meteorologist, have been preparing for the Olympics since 2004 — and all the preparation is starting to come to a head.
On Jan. 2, 2010, the Olympics’ central downtown forecast centre will be up and running. The following month crews of three meteorologists — with the exception of Cypress which gets five meteorologists — will be sent to cover all Olympic venues.
“It’s pretty intense,” Doyle said. “There is a lot of weather that can interfere [with events].”
These meteorologist have gone through extensive training to deal with the event. Since 2005 and 2006, the team’s members have focused on forecasting for specific Olympic venues. This provides them with local insight, Doyle said.
During the Games, they’ll provide two hours worth of forecasts every 15 minutes and a 46-hour forecast on the hour.
Vancouver’s coastal location pulls in an incredible variability on weather conditions, Doyle said.
“There are major differences from one region to the next,” he said.
He hopes Mother Nature will cooperate, making the sky blue and slopes white. However, if there is one thing he’s has learned as a meteorologist is that she’s very unpredictable.
“[The Olympics] is too long away to make [weather] calls,” he said.