Weather Woes Concern Olympics Officials
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The International Olympic Committee says it is not worried about the weather at next month's Winter Games in Vancouver. Warm temperatures and rain have closed Cypress Mountain, one of the ski resorts that'll host Olympic events.
This week, Vancouver Organizing Committee Chief John Furlong found himself answering questions about whether this could turn into the Spring Olympics.
Mr. JOHN FURLONG (CEO, Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee): We had anticipated for years that we could be confronted with challenges with weather. We are where we are in the world and that's the way it is.
SIEGEL: Well, how have preparations been affected by the warm weather?
NPR's Martin Kaste drove up to British Columbia to find out.
(Soundbite of driving)
MARTIN KASTE: Well, I'm almost at Cypress Mountain, the site of snowboarding and freestyle skiing events that are in these Olympics. You can hear the rain on my windshield, the French jazz on my radio. I don't know, this does not look like a Winter Olympics venue right now. It looks really, really soggy.
Mr. TIM GAYDA (Official, Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee): It's the challenge of running an outdoor sport. It's something that we enjoy. And we're up for the challenge.
KASTE: Tim Gayda, an official with the organizing committee held court near the brown ski runs at Cypress Mountain, tried to reassure a scrum of local reporters. Yes, he said the rain had washed away about three feet of snow pack here. But he reminded everyone that they can make snow. And if that's not enough, they've also been doing what he called snow farming pushing together big stockpiles of snow on a neighboring mountain.
Mr. GAYDA: They're in the thousands of cubic meters and they're kind of piled up all over the mountain. Obviously it's a lot of work to get that snow over to Mount Black, but it's something that should the temperatures look like they're going to stay warm, which, unfortunately they're not, we would go and get it.
KASTE: Organizers are looking forward to a predicted drop in temperatures next week. And conditions are snowier at Whistler, the ski resort two hours out of Vancouver where most outdoor events are planned. Still, even at Whistler things can get mushy. The humid Pacific air that comes swirling up British Columbia's sounds and inlets can do a number on ski conditions even at 7,000 feet. And this year there's an El Nino effect in the Pacific making things worse.
The Olympic organizers have their own meteorologist, Chris Doyle, to try to predict the effects of all this.
Mr. CHRIS DOYLE (Meteorologist): We actually could see the signal - this kind of system - appearing ten days before we arrived, and that's the kind of information we're providing to the organizing committee.
KASTE: Doyle also has to keep his eye on the humidity, which can ruin ice even indoors. The ice arenas in Vancouver have been equipped with extra dehumidifiers to keep out the city's persistent damp. The fact is, British Columbia is part rain forest and there have always been questions about whether it was a good bet to plan the Winter Games in Vancouver. If you ask the organizing committee's in-house meteorologist about that, you'll find it's a question that he'd rather not answer.
Mr. DOYLE: Well, of course that wasn't my decision. I just forecast the weather.
KASTE: In Vancouver's Robson Square, the Olympic countdown clock is now past the one-month mark. And kids enjoy free skating on a rink that was reopened for the games. Linda Fox watches the fun and says even an Olympic skeptic like her is now hoping for the best.
Ms. LINDA FOX: I think all of this is really nice. And considering the last year we've had, you know, it's cheering everybody up. And everything, I think, is proud to showcase Vancouver.
KASTE: Of course, right now that showcase is pretty wet. Even as the kids circle the ice, a maintenance man gets up on a lift and pokes at the cloth awning overhead, knocking off a torrent of excess rain.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.