October 2008

Olympic Games and weather forecasting—what’s next?


Nowcasting at the Olympic Games

The Beijing 2008 project was part of a series of efforts focused on weather prediction during the Olympics. The first international Forecast Demonstration Project (FDP) for the Olympics was held in Sydney, Australia, in 2000 under the WMO’s World Weather Research Programme (WWRP). The goals of the Sydney Forecast Demonstration Project were to showcase and improve techniques for the nowcasts (0- 3 h) of weather with a focus on rainfall and winds associated with summertime thunderstorms. Forecasts on this time-scale are particularly challenging since thunderstorms evolve rapidly and the numerical models that are typically used for weather prediction are often less reliable in the first few hours of a forecast (often called the spin-up period by meteorologists). Due to this spin-up problem, forecasts are instead a mix of numerical techniques and products derived from Doppler radar and other measurementfacilities.

Sharing the expertise and data is cost-effective

The WWRP Forecast Demonstration Projects at the Olympic Games gather leading international scientists to demonstrate and compare their latest forecasting techniques to create an international surge of meteorological creativity and imagination. A strong synergism exists between national efforts to improve prediction on these time-scales and the series of WWRP efforts during the Olympic Games. For example, radar analysis software utilized by specific hydrometeorological centres and research institutes for their nowcasting programmes were improved to be ready for the Sydney Games in 2000 with the lessons learned from the intercomparisons at these Games brought back to improve the national efforts. The cycle was repeated this year for Beijing, where thunderstorms and summertime rainfall were among the challenges faced by forecasters with the China Meteorological Administration The outcomes of such Forecast Demonstration Projects are improved weather predictions in the future and better delivery of specific weather information for WMO Members. For example, people need to know exactly when a severe rainstorm will hit and the best estimate of its specific location, duration and intensity. The advantage of collaboration among National Meteorological Services in such forecast projects results in sharing and stringent testing of new ideas and techniques in a manner that saves valuable research time and money.



The challenge of Vancouver 2010

Scientists are now moving from summertime thunderstorms to winter snow with a project designed to fine-tune short-term winter weather forecasting tools. The project, the first of its kind, is being developed for the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010. Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics present a unique set of challenges. Vancouver and the mountain venues at Whistler receive rain, freezing rain and snow. In Whistler, the highest peaks experience high winds, low fog levels, snow at the top and rain at the base—all at the same time. Managing transportation between the urban locations and the mountain venues will be a challenge. While transportation improvements will be made for Vancouver 2010, winter weather still brings unique challenges.

ski slope  

Fortunately, Olympic athletes and meteorologists are both driven by a desire for excellence and see the Olympics as tremendous opportunities.


Nowcasting and nations of the developing world

As mentioned earlier, nowcasting techniques often rely on Doppler radar techniques, which are often not available uniformly across the world due to costs and difficulties in maintainence. Future WWRP efforts in nowcasting research will also include greater efforts to utilize remote-sensing from space.

See also the articles on the Beijing 2008 Olympics project in this issue and in the August edition of MeteoWorld.



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