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No, Really. Let’s Talk About the Weather.
The weather media is buzzing with pre-Olympic worry about the lack of cold weather and snow in and around Vancouver.
But is there really cause for surprise? Was this kind of weather completely unforeseeable?
Dr. Peter Jackson says no to both. He is a Professor of Meteorology at the University of Northern British Columbia, and a former meteorologist with Environment Canada in Vancouver.
“There has been a major forecasting effort for these Olympics. They’ve been working for four years now, including 3 years of in depth scenario training.”
The trouble with weather, Jackson says, is that “you can predict it, but you can’t change it.” Still, he says, “all of the planning is useful for organizers, who have been preparing for a very long time to deal with a possible melt”.
And what about El Nino? Is it predictable? How far in advance did they know about it?
Jackson is less equivocal.
“El Nino is an oceanographic phenomena that comes in three to six year cycles, which are hard to predict. It is related to water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. When these ocean temperatures go up, it causes a huge exchange of energy near the ocean’s surface. This exchange changes how storms track, and world wide weather systems are impacted.”
Jackson thinks that in the scheme of things, we shouldn’t worry about the impacts of El Nino on the games.
“El Nino tends to give us warmer than average temperatures and heavy rainfall. But in Ecuador and other parts of Pacific South America, the consequences are disastrous, as El Nino destroys the fisheries -- and people’s livelihoods.”
“We should remember,” he states seriously, “that up here it’s just a game.”
A solemn reminder.
It is a game, so how concerned are the athletes with this inordinate avalanche of weather worry? They would seem to be, at first glance, the ones most individually impacted by our collective meteorological fortunes.
Ross Rebagliati won Olympic Gold in snowboarding in Nagano in 1998. And provided an inside view on the psychology of the athletes.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary to be in a situation like this,” he says.
“When you’re in the snow sports industry, you understand how weather can change quickly, for better or worse. Right now, for Cypress Bowl, warm weather and freezing have been high, creating a melt. Having said that, it could change in a single day.”
He says the athletes are more concerned with what kind of snow they will get, rather than whether there will be enough.
“The athletes want to know if they are going to get man-made snow or natural snow. This impacts what kind of waxes they are going to pick, how they tune their edges, what degree angle they put on the edges.”
“Man-made snow is the #1 choice for racing,” he says, “because the molecules of water are smaller and tighter than in natural snowflakes, almost like ice. This makes for a much more consistent run. Soft natural snowfall can cause problems, like ruts, and be hard to predict.”
“Psychologically, mentally, physically, “ he says, “the athletes are dealing with their own demons, and weather is only one factor.”
“The anxiety leading up to an event like this is almost unparalleled,” he explains, “because there are equipment issues, and training issues, and psychological issues.”
“The weather is the least of these.”
“The biggest thing is dealing with these various issues in a way where your attitude is focused on making the most of whatever comes.”
He says that most athletes hope for “cold weather, clear conditions, and man-mad snow.”
“The ultimate,” he says, “would be to see the oceans and the city below.”
But, he concludes, optimal conditions like this are not common.
“I once competed in Austria, near Italy, with cows grazing on the side of the run.”
As most Vancouver residents know, there are no cows at Cypress Bowl.
Still, before declaring the case closed, it seemed prudent to find one more local expert to foretell the impacts of weather on the games.
Since 1996 Chanel has been the owner of Granville Island Psychic Studio, a local business that specializes in helping people make decisions about their future.
She noted that weather predictions are not her specialty, but had a few predictions for the games in general.
“The Olympics will happen as they are meant to happen. Vanoc has done the job they promised. The tourists are going to be delighted.”
“People are afraid,” she explained, “and when people are afraid it brings negative vibes. And negative vibes are contagious.”
But, she added, “if you know for yourself that things are going to be okay, then they will be okay.”
“Life is made to work out.”