COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The warming climate is forecast to bring big challenges to cities that once hosted or may in the future want to host the Winter Olympics.
A study published last month in the journal Current Issues in Tourismfor example, revealed the warming temperatures caused by climate change could have major negative effects on safe and fair conditions for snow sports competitors.
Led by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the study surveyed 339 elite athletes and coaches from 20 countries to define unfair and unsafe conditions.
From the responses, researchers determined those unideal conditions to be rain, wet snow, narrow and low snow coverage and temperatures below 14 degrees Fahrenheit or above 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
The 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics since 1950 have warmed on average 4.8°F over that time, per climate change research group Climate Central.
Beijing, this year’s host of the Winter Games, has warmed by nearly 9°F in the past 70 years, and it saw record warmth last February. This warming also wasn’t isolated, as 2021 was China’s warmest year on record.
Snow conditions are also worsening due to warmer weather, the University of Waterloo study found, as researchers predict reliable powder for snow sports to decline by midcentury and further fall by the 2080s.
Unless global warming is significantly slowed, which experts agree means curbing the use of fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, the research shows continued high emissions would extremely limit the cities able to host the Winter Olympics.
Under a high-emissions scenario, only four of 21 former host cities could reliably have safe and fair February conditions by the 2050s. And by the 2080s, only one of those cities — Sapporo, Japan — would be a viable host.
A low-emissions scenario has a better outlook but still forecasts harm to snow conditions. In a global climate warmed only to the Paris Agreement goal of 2 degrees Celsius, only nine of 21 former host cities would be able to provide safe and fair February conditions by the 2050s. That number is cut down to eight by the 2080s.
A major United Nations report released last summer found that human influence has already warmed the planet by 1.1°C since preindustrial levels, calling it a “code red for humanity.”
How former US host cities would fare
In the United States, Lake Placid, New York; Squaw Valley, California; and Salt Lake City have hosted the Winter Olympics, and each city has seen a notable warming trend since 1950.
Climate Central’s data reveals that average February temperatures in Lake Placid have risen about 2.4°F in the past 70 years:
Squaw Valley may not have seen much of a change since 1950, but when it comes to snow and ice, researchers note, even 0.8°F can be very notable:
Salt Lake City is the most recent US city to host the Winter Olympics, when the world descended on northern Utah in 2002. Since 1950, average February temperatures have increased almost 3°F:
Even larger changes have been recorded in the Norwegian cities of Oslo and Lillehammer. Since 1950, their Februaries have warmed the most at 9.8°F and 9.2°F, respectively:
Ben Orner contributed to this story.