Before the 2010 Olympic Games, Vancouver famously had to ship in snow from the Rockies because the local slopes were too bare. Since then, however, humanity has fixed global warming and never again will a place selected to host the Winter Games, presumably in part due to its ample snow cover, have to go to embarrassingly extreme measures to make sure it has enough powder for people to ski on.
Just kidding. The planet is still frying, and Sochi, the Russian city that will be the site of next year's Olympics, is currently in the process of loading up the nearby Caucasus Mountains with 500,000 tons of extra snow to keep it cold for next winter. You know, just in case.
Sochi just had "unseasonably warm temperatures" throughout its winter this year, as well as a significant shortage of snow. Which has Russian organizers worried they'll be facing down a similar predicament next year.
"We've prepared seven separate areas for snow storage high up in the mountains," Sergei Bachin, the director of a resort that will host alpine skiing events, told Reuters. "I want to assure all the competitors that there won't be any shortage of snow next February even if we encounter even warmer temperatures next year. We're storing such huge amounts of snow just in case."
Welcome to 2013, where part of preparing for the Winter Olympics means pushing half a million tons of snow into seven storage tanks on the top of a mountain. But this absurdity clearly isn't anomalous—it's the next logical evolution in a decade-spanning trend.
Here, for instance, is an account of what the Vancouver organizers had to do in 2010:
As spring flowers bloom early and birds start to nest around balmy Vancouver, officials there have chartered a fleet of helicopters to fly in thousands of tons of snow for the Winter Olympics. Without the emergency snowlift, which is also shipping in tons of snow in convoys of giant lorries, Olympic chiefs feared they might have to abandon the Games that have already cost £1.5 billion and are due to start in three weeks.
Organisers admitted that they seriously underestimated the impact of climate change when they picked the venue at Cypress Mountain, Vancouver, for some of the most popular ski and snowboard events.
With the temperature hovering around 11°C it was too warm to make snow with snow-blower machines so the winter fun resort was closed to the public yesterday while new snow was flown in from mountains 500 miles further north.
It was too hot to even make artificial snow, so they had to ship it in with helicopters and convoys of trucks. But even before that, previous hosts of the Winter Olympics had routinely been struggling with too-low snowfall. Snowfall was disconcertingly low in Turin in 2006, until last minute flurries rescued the games. The same fear gripped Nagano organizers in 1998—though the snowstorms eventually came, and proceeded to nearly derail the games by being too strong.
The fact is, our beloved (okay, tolerated so our moms can watch figure skating) winter games are becoming decidedly less wintery. That's largely because the last ten years comprised the hottest decade on record, as measured by NASA, NOAA, and the British Meteorological Office and Climate Research Unit. And that line on that graph is going to keep on ticking upward, because humans have not slowed one iota the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are pouring into the atmosphere. Scientists say the "safe" amount of carbon in the atmosphere, the amount necessary to prevent drastic heating, is 350 parts per million. Earlier this year, we hit 395 ppm.
That means we've got many more low-snow winters in store. That means Olympic organizers storing up snow in mountainous freezers or hauling it in from higher elevations is probably going to become a regular thing. Either that, or it means we're going to have to start holding all of our Winter Olympics in Dubai.
Image: Flickr, Rick's Images