Join Date: Oct 2008
2010 alert: Here comes El Nino
Warmer weather, less snowfall would mean trouble for Games
Forecasters say El Nino is back and expected to stick around for Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics next February, bringing with it the potential of warmer weather, lower snowfall and problems for the Games.
However, the Vancouver Organizing Committee and local ski-hill operators insist they aren't worried that the return of the climate phenomenon will affect snowpacks or have an adverse effect on the Games, which take place in February.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday the surface temperature along a narrow band in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean climbed at least one degree 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 NOAA's website. El Nino, the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, typically comes every two to five years and lasts about a year.
The NOAA forecasters say they expect this El Nino to continue strengthening through the winter of 2009-2010.
That could mean warmer and drier conditions for the Pacific Northwest.
Meteorologist Mark Madryga said it was too early to say what the phenomenon will mean for B.C., but noted it could have an effect on the North Shore mountains if it strengthens in intensity.
Whistler-Blackcomb would likely be spared, he said.
"If [El Nino] happens, then chances are we would have a warmer than usual winter," Madryga said.
"That would mean we'd probably get a lot less snow in the city this winter and rain would fall high up on the North Shore mountains, so that's not a good scenario for the Olympics."
But, he added: "It's still early in the game."
Environment Canada meteorologist Gabor Fricska said B.C. typically experiences above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation levels when El Nino sweeps through.
He said forecasters will have a better idea of the potential of El Nino in the fall but at the moment, "it's not a strong signal."
Since 2002, there have been three instances of El Nino, which alters the jet stream, changing the air flow coming off the Pacific. If it's weak, with a small deviation from normal, it won't have much of an effect.
The most recent El Nino occurrences, including the latest in 2006-07, were fairly weak, Fricska noted. The last strong El Nino hit in 1997-98, prolonging the start of the ski season on many Vancouver mountains with no snow falling until Christmas.
It also nearly spelled doom for the Nagano Winter Olympics, which didn't get any significant snow until January 1998, a month before the Games were to begin. Nagano hailed that first significant snowfall of the season as "snow of mercy."
Organizers had worried that if the snow didn't come, they would have had to cancel downhill skiing and other key events. The unusually warm winter had left four out of five ski resorts around the Olympic area closed or empty for lack of snow.
Temperature may be the most significant factor for the success of the Olympics, since machines can make snow, but warm weather will hurt its quality.
During the February 1988 Olympics, warm Chinook winds swept through the Calgary area, turning luge runs to mud and snow to slush.
Fricska said more rain at lower levels could affect Vancouver's ski hills, depending on how low their snow lines are.
Cathy Priestner Allinger, Vanoc's executive vice-president for sport and games operations, said in a statement Vanoc is working with Environment Canada to monitor weather patterns and has alternatives should El Nino strike. She didn't elaborate.
"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.
Neither Whistler nor the North Shore's Cypress Bowl, which are both hosting Games events, indicated they were worried about El Nino.
Tabetha Boot, a spokeswoman for Whistler-Blackcomb, said early trail maintenance and heavy use of snowmaking equipment will ensure the runs are ready for the Games regardless of the weather.
Boot noted that 2006-07, the last El Nino year, was a good year for skiers looking for fresh powder. Cypress Mountain sales and marketing director Joffrey Koeman said he wasn't nervous about a warming trend. "In the last 15 years, it's never been a problem to host an event," he said.
Source: 2010 alert: Here comes El Nino