VANCOUVER // Thousands of airline passengers stranded. Roads impassable because of snow. Power failures by the dozen. The last two weeks have been a winter nightmare for Vancouver. All over the city, people are griping about the toll storm after storm has taken on their holiday season. They're also asking another question: What if this happens during the 2010 Winter Olympics?
Vancouver airport, transit and city officials say they're using the recent storms as a learning opportunity. With 400,000 passengers passing through Vancouver in the last week on 5,000 flights, the current volume of airport traffic is close to what it will be during the games. The city's transit system will be different in 2010, with more buses and a new subway line that will not be affected by weather because most of it runs underground, said Ken Hardie, a spokesman for TransLink, which handles public transit in British Colombia's Lower Mainland.
Car-free lanes on venue routes also mean less chance of snow- related traffic congestion. "I understand that the type of weather that we've had over the past week or so is a one-in-10-year event," Hardie said. "Let's hope we've gotten it out of our system for another 10 years." Events will be divided between the area in and around Vancouver, which is known more for rain than snow, and the ski resort of Whistler, which usually has plenty of the white stuff each winter.
Before the Beijing Olympics last summer, Chinese authorities were so afraid of rain disrupting the opening ceremony that they experimented with cloud seeding. Al Wallace is regional director of Meteorological Services Canada, which is providing weather services for the 2010 Olympics. He said a weather-control project is not in the works for 2010, mostly because it hasn't been proved to actually work.
The Olympic organising committee acknowledges that while it has command over virtually every aspect of the games, the weather is one thing it simply cannot control - even if it is one of the most critical elements of staging a successful Winter Olympics. When the games were awarded to Vancouver in 2003, Environment Canada and Meteorological Services were immediately brought on board and weather stations installed at each venue.
The committee also found that signage and seating at outdoor venues would be severely challenged by the weight of about 15 inches of snow. Vancouver has had three feet of snow this month. There are also the challenges of keeping volunteers' morale high when it's cold and wet and mobilising volunteers in the middle of the night to clear snow from venues. This winter's test events will provide the final dry (or wet) run for weather issues.
All the forecasters who will work at the games will be at the test-event venues assisting judges, coaches and organisers. But planning can go only so far and they are hoping for the best. * Associated Press