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PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games Forecast: Several Athletes Hurt by High Winds and Cold Temperatures in First Week
Published: February 20, 2018
The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, have been plagued by windy and cold conditions since they began, but thankfully, more tranquil weather is expected over the next several days.
At least three athletes, 13 staff members and three spectators have been injured by high winds during the Olympic Games so far.
Thankfully, athletes got much needed ideal weather days last Thursday and Friday. Winds were light and temperatures were in the 20s and 30s in PyeongChang for several events that were rescheduled from earlier last week.
Winds on Saturday, however, delayed at least one event. The women's super-G was pushed back by an hour at the Jeongseon Alpine Center due to strong winds.
Fortunately, weather conditions have not been an issue over the last few days.
Current Temperatures and Feels-Like Temperatures
Winds and Wind Gusts
Current Wind Speed and Gusts
* Note: These observations may not be representative of all elevations at some venues. Winds and temperatures will vary wildly at some locations, especially in Alpine locations.
Forecast For The Games
Generally milder air will be in place through midweek with daytime highs above the freezing mark. Temperatures at night, however, will be chilly and will feel even colder in the wind.
A new storm system could bring a chance of higher winds Thursday into Friday and a slight chance of precipitation.
Otherwise, mainly dry conditions are expected over the next several days.
Climate for South Korea
PyeongChang visitors and residents can expect high temperatures topping out in the 30s to near 40 degrees and morning lows dipping into the teens or 20s, on average (or in the low single-digits degrees Celsius for highs).
The region sees somewhat less snow than other places at the same latitude and at the same proximity to water. This is because the predominant wind in February is off mainland Asia, often bitterly cold and dry air from Siberia.
This weather is similar to what Des Moines, Iowa, and Albany, New York, see in February, and to a lesser extent in Chicago, Detroit and Toronto.
A few other weather patterns may occur in South Korea this time of year.
If winds are out of the southwest, that may be particularly disruptive to the Games. This wind direction, if it is persistent, taps warm, humid air from the Yellow Sea and would bring rain, which would melt mountain snow and make it difficult for Olympic sites to keep snow on the ground. If this pattern only sets up briefly, snow still manages to fall in the mountains.
A pattern many athletes may like is one with generally east winds. Flash snowfalls are possible in the mountains, and if the cold air is deep enough near the ground, record precipitation can occur.
In between large-scale patterns, South Korea can get days of snow and nights of fog and lowered visibilities. Flurries can fall in the colder air when enough moisture is present, and fog can form due to the cooling effect of the mountains at night in weak winds.
The mountains can bring some adverse conditions for athletes and spectators on rare occasions. Here are a few weather records near PyeongChang:
|Record High||61.7°F (16.5°C)|
|Record Low||-17.7°F (-27.6°C)|
|Record Gust||76.5 mph (34.2 m/s)|
|Record Daily Snowfall||34.3 inches (87.0 cm)|
|Record Daily Precipitation (rain and snow)||2.69 inches (68.3 mm)|
|Record-Low Humidity||10 percent|
To the east, in Gangneung, where all of the ice events are taking place, temperatures are generally 10 to 15 degrees (or 6 to 9 degrees Celsius) warmer due to the lower elevation and closer proximity to water. This warmth brings less than half of the snow to Gangneung compared to the more mountainous venues, but slightly more precipitation overall.
Athletes heading to the Paralympic Games in mid-March can expect temperatures to be roughly 7 to 9 degrees (or 3 to 6 degrees Celsius) warmer, with highs generally in the upper 30s or lower 40s (or 4 to 6 degrees Celsius). Increasing precipitation can also be expected.
PyeongChang is roughly 80 miles, or 125 kilometers, east of South Korea's capital of Seoul, which hosted the Summer Games in 1988.
The PyeongChang Olympic sites are mostly located in the Taebaek Mountains of northeastern South Korea.
The Olympic venues generally range from 2,100 feet to 4,700 feet in elevation with differing winds at various heights. PyeongChang is 700 meters high, roughly 2,300 feet, in elevation.
Source: Meteorology and Climate Team of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games
The Olympic Games
Three downhill ski events and the women's biathlon have been postponed by high winds since during the first weekend of the Games, the Associated Press reported.
The women's biathlon at the Alpensia Biathlon Center was completed on Thursday after being postponed by winds gusting to more than 15 mph on Feb. 14. Winds of this strength can make handling rifles difficult. The men's biathlon was also delayed on Wednesday due to the strong winds.
On Wednesday, the women's slalom was also postponed to Friday due to strong winds at the Yongpyong Alpine Center. This is the third time in four days that an Alpine skiing race was postponed due to dangerous weather conditions.
In technical events, such as the slalom, wind that changes direction can be considered unfair, because some skiers will get a helpful tailwind, while others will be hurt by a headwind.
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Athletes can reach 90 mph in their downhill events and changes in wind speed and direction can make these runs dangerous.
The winds can also put gondolas that take athletes to the top of Jeongseon's slopes at risk. Some practice runs were shortened at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre again Wednesday due to high winds.
The three men's races – the combined, downhill and super-G – need to be completed by Friday because there is only one hotel near the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, and the men need to vacate their rooms in time for the women's speed events, which are scheduled to begin Saturday, so the women have a place to stay.
Gusty winds caused the evacuation of Olympic Park in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 14. Sustained winds of 23 mph with stronger gusts howled through the Olympic Park near the coast, knocking over tents, signs and even small refrigerators, according to the Associated Press. The park was evacuated for several hours, but most sought shelter in the indoor ice venues in Gangneung.
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Sung Baik-you, a spokesperson for the Olympic Organizing Committee, told Time that 13 staff members and three spectators were injured during the high winds, but were released after being treated for scrapes and other light injuries.
Sung also said that 60 temporary tents and other debris went flying, likely contributing to the injury count.
Australia's Tess Coady was injured by the high winds after a rough landing during a slopestyle training run. "Got picked up in the wind on the bottom jump in practice and my ACL was not a big fan," Coady said on Instagram. Australia’s team doctor confirmed Coady ruptured the ACL in her left knee, according to the Associated Press.
America's Ashley Caldwell was caught during a practice run on the ski slopes by high winds. She landed on her shoulder hard, and then went on to miss her triple-jump landings both times during Olympic qualifying. Caldwell will, unfortunately, watch the finals for freestyle skiing on the sidelines.
American luger Emily Sweeney crashed on Feb. 13 during finals, partially due to colder-than-normal ice, according to USA Today. The ice was chilled more so than normal due to the frigid temperatures at the Alpensia Sliding Centre. Thankfully, only bumps and bruises resulted from the crash.
The Opening Ceremonies
Fortunately, temperatures warmed up toward the freezing mark in time for the opening ceremony.
In defiance of the chilly temperatures, Pita Taufatofua showed up once again covered in oil at opening celebration despite temperatures being roughly 50 degrees colder in PyeongChang than in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during his shirtless appearance in the opening ceremony there. Wind chills dropped into the mid-teens around Olympic Stadium at the time of the opening ceremony.
(AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
According to organizers, the majority of drivers are expected to park about a 20-minute walk from the Olympic Stadium, which held the opening ceremony. Along the way, 13 warming tents and food trucks provided hot drinks to those going to the ceremony. 18 warming shelters and 40 large heaters were also provided in Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.
According to organizers of the PyeongChang Olympics, spectators of the opening ceremonies and Games held in the open-air Olympic Stadium were be given a lap blanket, knit caps, a warm seat cushion, multiple hand and feet warmers and a raincoat.
The cold weather is already taking its toll on Athletes and their gear. Skis are being warped so badly at the Yongpyong Alpine Center that athletes are throwing their skis out after each run. That is the center that will hold the giant slalom, slalom and alpine team events later this month. The cold weather favors sharper snow crystals which often damage skis badly enough that athletes need to throw them out.
Course engineers are hoping that warmer weather into next week will help loosen up the snow and lessen the damage to skis. The slalom race course has also been injected with water to combat damage to skis.
Temperatures in PyeongChang were near 3 degrees (F) below zero on Wednesday morning but several higher elevation sites likely had temperatures in the mid to upper single digits below zero.
Volunteers traveling to the venues were seen huddled around heated patios on Wednesday as temperatures climbed from a frigid low of 3 degrees below zero. There is some concern about the well-being of both competitors and spectators throughout the entire Olympic games due to the cold weather, according to the Associated Press.
Volunteers are being given free tickets to ski jumping and curling trials to help fill stadiums to capacity, according to the Korea Herald. Lower turnout is expected at these Olympics due to the Siberian chill.
At a rehearsal for the opening ceremony last Sunday, audiences walked out because it was so cold, according to ABC News. Temperatures were in the single digits and wind chills were in the single digits below zero at the rehearsal. Even ATMs were frozen by the Arctic air.
MORE: Early Winter Olympics
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