A heat wave hitting Sochi this week could make the 2014 Winter Olympics the warmest in history.
Temperatures in Sochi soared to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) yesterday (Feb. 10) and are forecast to hit 63 F (17 C) on Thursday (Feb. 13). The heat wave also pumped up temperatures in the mountains 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Sochi, where the outdoor events for the 2014 Winter Olympics are held. A high-pressure ridge sitting atop the Sochi area is to blame: the ridge is warming Sochi by decreasing cloudiness, keeping the skies clear and sunny.
Though Russia is known for its famously frigid winters, Sochi enjoys a more moderate climate. The town is a beach resort on the Black Sea, in the far southwestern corner of the country, and winter temperatures here are often the warmest in Russia. It's humid and warm enough for palm trees to line the city streets. February temperatures in Sochi average about 50 F (10 C), so this week's heat wave isn't a shocker for locals. According to Olympic organizers, accommodating a possible heat wave was part of the planning for the 2014 Winter Games.
The nearby mountains stay cooler, thanks to their elevation of more than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level. But even the chilling effects of altitude aren't helping during this week's high temperatures, which have caused some puddles near the ski jumps. Olympic officials in charge of outdoor events such as skiing and snowboarding can combat the heat's effects with artificial snow, as well as snow saved from last year's winter, but have no plans to do so yet, they told the Associated Press. Instead, some training runs are being shifted to the evening, when temperatures are lower.
While the winter warmth isn't unusual for Sochi, many former winter Olympic venues may not be cold enough to host the games by mid-century. The reason: global warming, a recent study found.
Higher surface temperatures and a decline in winter snow cover in parts of the Northern Hemisphere mean cities such as Vancouver, British Columbia; Squaw Valley, Calif.; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, could be too warm to host the Winter Olympics, researchers at Canada's University of Waterloo and Austria's Management Center Innsbruck found.