It’s Official: Sochi Was the Warmest Winter Olympics Ever

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 24 2014 5:07 PM

It’s Official: Sochi Was the Warmest Winter Olympics Ever

469467817-people-enjoy-the-warm-weather-near-the-bolshoy-ice-dome
Another cold day during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

In what was painfully obvious to each and every viewer, the just-completed celebration of snow sports in the southern Russia resort city of Sochi was the warmest Winter Olympics ever.

The Olympics were plagued by spring-like weather: Skiers landed in puddles at the bottom of their runs, snow was trucked in from more northern mountains, and tourists were caught sunbathing between events.

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A comprehensive analysis by American meteorologist Matt Lanza, updated on Monday, showed Sochi was head-and-shoulders the warmest Winter Olympics since at least 1950, as far back as reliable weather records go.

winter-olympics-weather2
Move over, Vancouver: there’s a new gold medal holder for warmest winter Olympics in history.

Chart by Matt Lanza.

Now, to be fair, Sochi had a head start. It has the warmest average climate of any winter Olympics venue in history. But it was even warmer than normal this month in southern Russia: The highest temperature recorded during the games was a whopping 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Six days were in the 60s. Here are the historical and actual temperatures for U.S. cities with a similar climate as Sochi, plus the averages.

  Historical High/Lows
January 2014 High/Lows
January 2014 Average Temperature
Sochi
52/39
68/33
51
Atlanta
57/38
76/28 48
Charlotte
55/33
77/21 46
Memphis
55/36 74/19 42
Oklahoma City
55/33 75/9
38
Washington, D.C.
47/31 69/19
39

As it turned out, not one moment of the Sochi Olympics was below freezing, as measured in Adler, Russia, 17 miles away (and at the same altitude). That’s never happened before.

From Lanza’s post:

So have the Winter Olympics warmed? I suppose that depends on what definition you want to use. In the sense that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has awarded the last three consecutive games to three of the four climatologically warmest sites in Winter Olympics history, then yes, they’ve warmed, and certainly in recent years, the actual temperatures have warmed too. Should this be a surprise? Maybe, maybe not. The anomalies relative to normal haven’t been terribly impressive in recent years, but if the Sochi forecast verifies that will change a bit.

Turns out, we’d probably have done better if the Olympics had been in Atlanta.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.

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