Winter Olympics 2030: February snow could wreak havoc in Park City
February 9, 2019
Park City on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 continued to dig out after a series of snowstorms that pummeled the area over the past week.
The driving was treacherous during the storms, large piles of snow on the curbs narrowed the roads and the snowplow crews were jammed. And there were cancellations at the FIS World Championships, held in the Park City area.
There could be even more problems if there is a similar storm in the days before Friday, Feb. 8, 2030, the day the Winter Olympics may open in Salt Lake City with Park City as a crucial venue city. The United States Olympic Committee has designated Salt Lake City as the bid city vying for a future Winter Olympics, likely the Games of 2030. The Park City area has a major role in the bid with three competition venues — Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort and the Utah Olympic Park — identified in the Games plan.
The heavy snow that arrived this year as the Sundance Film Festival ended and the FIS World Championships started illustrated the impact inclement weather can have on major events. Even as the crowds continued to move about Park City, the snow made driving conditions difficult, parking was even tougher than it typically is during the winter and, importantly, the organizers of the FIS World Championships were forced to delay and then cancel some events based on the weather.
The timing of the storms almost paralleling the potential Winter Olympic dates of 2030 provides early awareness of the issue long before any Games organizers would craft a schedule of the events for an Olympics. The Park City area received up to 70 inches of snow starting in the last week of January, according to the National Weather Service.
"If we had the storms we had in the last two weeks, we'd be in great shape for the Olympics," said Brian McInerney, a National Weather Service hydrologist who closely tracks snowfall totals and the amount of water contained in the snowpack.
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The storms added significantly to the snowpack. McInerney said the amount of water in the snowpack on Thursday, a key measurement, stood at 130 percent of the 30-year median at a Thaynes Canyon measuring station at an elevation of 9,230 feet.
Storms like the ones recently, should they occur in the weeks before a Winter Olympics, would ensure an adequate supply of snow for the cross-country skiing venue in Solider Hollow, McInerney said. The venue, at a lower elevation than the ski-racing locations, was a worry during the 2002 Winter Olympics as well.
"They could cover that course and not worry about melting off," he said about the track at Soldier Hollow.
McInerney, though, cautions about the potential impact of a changing climate on the weather by 2030. He said there is expected to be "more intense storms" by then with snowstorms starting later in the winter and ending earlier than nowadays. There are projected to be more storm-blocking high-pressure systems in 2030 than there are now, he said.
In an Olympic winter, storms similar to the recent ones could wreak havoc so close to the opening of a Games. If the storms hit in the week before, the final preparations could be made more complicated. The crews would need to spend time clearing the snow as they prepare the venues, parking lots and other Games infrastructure. If the storms dropped several feet of snow during the Games themselves, there would be expected to be impacts on the transportation system that is so important to the overall operations as slow-moving vehicles clog the roads. There could also be impacts on the competition calendar if the weather causes delays.
"We would be doing the same as the crews are doing on the hills now. Cleaning a lot of snow," said Colin Hilton, the president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and a high-level staffer for the organizing committee that put on the Winter Olympics in 2002.
Hilton, a member of the Utah Olympic Exploratory Committee, said a Winter Olympic schedule includes a greater amount of contingency options for weather delays compared to the shorter FIS World Championships. He said the event schedule in 2002 put the Park City skiing and snowboarding events toward the middle of the Games, leaving several days of contingency dates if the schedule needed to be adjusted based on the weather.
A roster of officials is involved as weather-based delays are considered. Hilton said the organizing committee itself, including the venue teams, international sport federations and the International Olympic Committee would discuss the situation in conjunction with a main operations center. Forecasters and public works officials would also be heavily involved. He said an organizing committee would work closely with the Utah Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining interstate and state highways, and local public works departments as snowplowing priorities are set.
"We had a high level of confidence we would be able to put on all of the events even with some weather challenges," Hilton said.