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Organizers of winter games prepare for harsh cold at open-air PyeongChang Olympic Stadium

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
February 05, 2018, 8:29:48 AM EST

The 2018 Winter Olympics will officially begin on Feb. 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea, and this year’s winter games are expected to feature frigid air that could endanger spectators at outdoor venues.

The bone-chilling cold of the Taebaek Mountains, where many of the contests will be held, has been a source of contention and worry for Olympic organizers in the lead-up to the competitions.

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PyeongChang Olympic Stadium is an open-air facility that was built without a roof to save time and money, although organizers had requested a roof, Reuters reported. In November, six people reportedly suffered from hypothermia while attending a concert at the stadium.

To help address the issue, officials in South Korea have arranged to provide each spectator at the opening ceremonies with a small blanket, rain coats and heating pads. A crowd of 35,000 is anticipated for the opening ceremony.

The stadium, the games’ primary venue which will host the opening and closing ceremonies, is also being equipped with wind shields to help keep athletes and spectators warm. The polycarbonate fence is 3.5 meters high (11.5 feet) and 510 meters (1,673 feet) long.

ap winter olympics cold

In this Dec. 12, 2017, photo, a thermometer shows the current outdoor temperature reaching minus 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) as people play ski in the morning at Yongpyong Resort in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A cold and dry airflow is considered the most dominant weather pattern during February in PyeonChang.

According to data compiled by the PyeonChang Organizing Committee, February temperatures over the past decade averaged minus 4.5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit).

The athletic venues are sprawled across several locations in the northeastern part of the country: the mountainous PyeongChang, the coastal town of Gangneung and the town of Jeongseon, about 40 minutes east of PyeongChang.

PyeongChang and Jeongseon are home to the cluster of venues that will feature the mountain sports such as skiing, while the facilities in Gangneung will house indoor sports such as hockey, ice skating, speed skating and curling.

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AccuWeather Meteorologist SungHyun Do said that while PyeongChang and Gangneung are located at similar latitudes, the weather will be different since the altitude for both cities varies. PyeongChang’s altitude can range from 500 meters (1,640 feet) to around 900 meters (2,952 feet), while Gangneung is much lower with its highest elevation approximately 100 meters (328 feet), according to Do.

In addition to the cold air, the winds may send temperature levels even lower.

Destination PyeongChang

"The lower the temperatures and the higher the wind speed, the colder spectators can feel," Do said. Because PyeongChang is in the mountains, it will be cold regardless of wind direction; however, it may feel colder when the north wind blows, he explained.

“Winds blowing from the north can be colder and drier,” Do said.

The mountain cluster has a larger daily temperature range than the coastal region. The weather characteristics at different mountain locations can vary based on factors such as "relative humidity and wind due to different altitudes, facing directions of slopes and surrounding terrains, and other differences," according to the committee.

olympic stadium

In this Dec. 12, 2017, photo, Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium is seen in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

High temperatures during the 2010 Winter Olympics ranged between 7 and 12 C (46 and 55 F) in Vancouver, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Eric Leister. Due to the mild weather, the temperature in Vancouver was above normal during those Olympics, he said.

For the 2014 Sochi games, event organizers had to stock up snow well in advance, due to the city’s location on the Black Sea, one of the warmest parts of the country.

High temperatures in nearby Adler, Russia, 15 miles south of Sochi, ranged between 10 and 20 C (50 and 69 F) during the games and the lowest temperature was -17 C (0 F) on Feb. 7-8, 2014. The normal high in Sochi is 8-9 C (47-49 F) and the normal low is 1 C (34-35 F).

While the temperatures in Sochi would be likely be very similar to Adler during this time period, many of the mountain events would’ve faced colder weather, he said.

At times, milder, wet weather can also occur in PyeongChang thanks to a weather pattern that consists of a warm and humid airflow from the southwest. If this pattern were to unfold during the games, as was the case during the same time period in 2016, competition could be affected.

However, current forecasts continue to indicate a frigid opening ceremony, with below-normal temperatures around during a period of the games.

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