El Nino: Gold, Silver, Bronze or Tin?
Posted February 9, 2010
Ever since it became apparent last year that a moderate to possibly strong El Nino pattern was developing in the Pacific, one of the concerns centered on the fact that the next Winter Olympics were scheduled for Vancouver this month. While El Nino impacts can be quite variable from episode to episode, one of the primary correlations affecting North America is a large area of typically above-normal temperatures for the U.S. Pacific Northwest and western Canada. That same area tends to lean toward slightly below normal precipitation as well, though that is a less robust relationship.
So far, it appears the pattern has indeed favored warmth, so that while there has been some precipitation in the Vancouver area, it has leaned heavily toward rain, even on some of the surrounding mountains where organizers are having to work very hard (storing snow under tarps, trucking in snow from about 90 miles away, and so on) to make conditions workable on the venues near the city. Just as an example, in January Vancouver recorded rain on 26 days, and snow on none, while so far in February they've had 6 days with rain and none with snow, and temperatures have definitely leaned to the warm side of normal. As a comparison, back in 2008, snow was recorded on 10 days in January and rain on 19.
Alpine events are being held at a higher elevation a little farther north, and so far reports are that the situation is not as difficult there, although they aren't totally in the clear either. A station near that site has had 20 days with rain in January and February so far, with 6 days of snow in January and none this month. The attached monthly outlooks for February from the Climate Prediction Center track pretty closely with the typical effects of El Nino, and you can see that while the southeastern U.S. is leaning toward below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation, things look very different for the diagonally opposite end of the country. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, the outdoor games are impacted by the temperatures and precipitation-type issues in the next couple of weeks. Of course, the planners and organizers have had a long time to prepare to try and out-duel El Nino's effects, and they have dealt with some similar disruptions at previous Games, so hopefully it will all work out...