If the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia in 2050, the climate wouldn’t be reliably cold enough to successfully host the games.
That’s one of the findings of a new study from researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria. The researchers looked at high and low emissions scenarios for the 2050s and 2080s and found that, by the 2080s, only six of the 19 cities that have hosted Winter Olympics in the past would be able to reliably host the games again if high emissions predictions play out. Under low emissions scenarios, 10 cities would be able to host the games in the 2080s, and 11 would be able to host them in the 2050s.
CREDIT: Daniel Scott, University of Waterloo
The study also found that bad weather has long been a threat to the success of the Olympics, and that it’s one of the biggest challenges that the Olympic Organizing Committees have to deal with. Unreliable weather patterns are already affecting cities that host the winter games. Last February, Russian organizers were forced to cancel two test events for the 2014 games due to lack of snow and rainy weather. Since then, the country has stockpiled 16 million cubic feet of snow in an attempt to ensure none of the games’ events will be affected by warmer or less-snowy-than-usual weather. During the 2010 winter games in Vancouver, unseasonably mild weather forced officials to postpone Alpine ski races and commission helicopters to dump snow on snowboarding sites. And in 2012, Maryland cancelled its Winter Special Olympics due to higher temperatures and less snow.
“Today it would be difficult to imagine successfully delivering the diverse Games program exclusively on natural ice and snow, as it was in the early decades of the Olympic Winter Games,” said Robert Steiger of the Management Center Innsbruck.
Weather woes in the sporting world aren’t limited to the Winter Olympics either. Warming winters are taking a toll on the U.S.’s $12.2 billion winter sports industry — according to a 2012 report from the NRDC, the U.S. downhill ski resort industry lost $1.07 billion in potential revenue due to low snowfall between 1999 and 2010. One researcher predicts that more than half of the ski resorts in the Northeast U.S. will be forced to cut their seasons to fewer than 100 days by 2039 if certain warming scenarios prove to be accurate. And in Alaska, the Iditarod dog sled race hasn’t started in its traditional point in Wasilla in more than a decade, because there hasn’t been enough snow there. Increased temperatures in Alaska over the last several years have led some sled dog racers, called mushers, to begin breeding dogs with thinner coats so that they don’t overheat on the trail.
“Snow is currency,” Elizabeth Burakowski, co-author of the NRDC report, said in 2012. “If that currency is undermined by climate change, that industry is very much put at risk.”