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The Winter Olympics fight against global warming

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Global warming is expected to bring great challenges to cities that once hosted or could in the future host the Winter Olympics.

A study published last month in the journal Current issues in tourismfor example, revealed that 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 interviewed 339 elite athletes and coaches from 20 countries to define unfair and unsafe conditions.

From the responses, the researchers determined that these ideal conditions were rain, wet snow, narrow, light snow cover, and temperatures below 14 degrees Fahrenheit or above 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

The 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics since 1950 have warmed an average of 4.8°F over that time, according to climate change research group Climate Central.

Beijing, host of this year’s Winter Games, has warmed nearly 9°F over the past 70 years, and it experienced record heat last February. This warming was not isolated either, as 2021 was the hottest year on record in China.

Snow conditions are also deteriorating due to warmer weather, according to the University of Waterloo study, as researchers predict that reliable powder for snow sports will decrease by mid-century and even more by the 2080s.

Unless global warming is dramatically slowed, which experts say means limiting the use of fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, research shows that persistently high emissions would severely limit cities capable of hosting the Winter Olympics.

In a high-emissions scenario, only four of the 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 better prospects but still predicts damage to snow conditions. In a global climate warmed only to the Paris Agreement target of 2 degrees Celsius, only nine of the 21 former host cities would be able to provide safe and fair February conditions by the 2050s. That number is reduced to eight in the 2080s.

A major United Nations report released last summer found that human influence had already warmed the planet by 1.1°C from pre-industrial levels, calling it “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 noticeable warming trend since 1950.

Data from Climate Central reveals that average February temperatures in Lake Placid have risen about 2.4°F over the past 70 years:

Squaw Valley may not have changed much since 1950, but when it comes to snow and ice, the researchers note, even 0.8°F can be quite noticeable:

Salt Lake City was the most recent U.S. city to host the Winter Olympics, when the world descended on northern Utah in 2002. Since 1950, average February temperatures have risen nearly 3° F:

Even greater changes have been registered in the Norwegian cities of Oslo and Lillehammer. Since 1950, their Februarys have warmed the most at 9.8°F and 9.2°F, respectively:

Ben Orner contributed to this story.