The bone-chilling cold and icy winds in Pyeongchang have contributed to any number of wipe-outs for Olympic skiers and snowboarders, not to mention a public-relations face plant for the climate-change movement.
Its dire warnings about how the Winter Olympics face an existential threat from global warming have been all but buried by the flurry of reports about frigid conditions at the 2018 games in South Korea, which are expected to set an Olympic record for cold temperatures.
Climate activists have also been frustrated by a lack of global-warming coverage by NBC Sports, prompting a social-media campaign led by Public Citizen, Protect Our Winters and Climate Nexus urging the network to stop the “climate whiteout.”
“Winter sports are taking a huge hit from our warming planet and the athletes who depend on cold weather and snow—are witnessing and experiencing climate change first hand,” they said in a statement on Alternet. “We can no longer talk about the Winter Olympics without warming.”
This year, however, it’s impossible to talk about the Olympics without freezing. Organizers handed out blankets and heat pads to spectators at Friday’s opening ceremony, which was shortened by two hours in response to wind-chill temperatures that dipped below zero.
A number of skiing events have been delayed as a result of high winds and ice pellets, and reports of spectators leaving outdoor events early in order to escape the brutal cold are rampant.
“It was unbelievably cold,” ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan told the AP. “The noise of the wind at the top of the jump was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that on the World Cup circuit. I said to myself, ‘Surely, they are going to cancel this.’”
Skeptics like Climate Depot’s Marc Morano couldn’t resist needling leading environmental groups as they struggled to keep the global-warming theme afloat.
“More bad luck for climate activists as they push for more talk of ‘global warming’ during what is perhaps the coldest Olympics on record,” said Mr. Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.”
“The activists had the climate script written well in advance of the Olympics, but their message has literally been frozen out by the extreme cold,” he said in an email. “Despite this cold reality, the activists demand that the climate narrative go forth.”
Climate groups have touted an updated 2014 study by University of Waterloo geography professor Daniel Scott, whose climate models found that nine of the 21 previous host cities would be too warm by midcentury to accommodate the games.
“According to Scott’s research, using emissions projections in which global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise through midcentury and global temperatures increase by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, nine of the host locations will be too hot to handle the Games,” said the University of Waterloo in a Jan. 12 press release.
The last two winter games—Sochi in 2014 and Vancouver in 2010—saw organizers bring in artificial snow after being hit with unexpected warm temperatures.
Since the 1920s, the average temperatures at the Winter Olympics have risen from about 33 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 46 degrees for games held since 2000, according to Yale Climate Connections.
“The climate in many traditional winter sports regions isn’t what it used to be, and fewer and fewer places will be able to host the Olympic Winter Games as global warming accelerates,” said Mr. Scott in a statement.
The problem with climate models in general is their shaky track record, said University of Colorado Boulder meteorologist Roger A. Pielke Sr.
“Such claims are based on climate models that have shown essentially no skill at predicting multidecadal changes in regional climate statistics when tested against observed multidecadal regional climate changes and variations over the past decades (called “hindcasting”),” said Mr. Pielke in an email.
“If they cannot skillfully predict such changes in the past, we should have no confidence in what they tell us with respect to the coming decades,” he said. “Claims to the contrary are based on political advocacy and not robust science.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are on pace to go down as the coldest in recorded history, with night temperatures in Pyeongchang falling as low as -20 degrees Celsius, or -4 Fahrenheit, according to Reuters.
Such a mark would easily surpass the record of -11 degrees Celsius set at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen, argued that the overall trend still supports warmer global temperatures and what his group described as “disappearing winters.”
“Nothing in climate science says the temperature today must always be higher than yesterday or one year ago,” he said in an email. “But the overall warming trend is unmistakable and alarming.”
He pointed to quotes from skiers and other winter athletes who have said deteriorating snow conditions have made it more difficult to train.
“It’s a scary thing right now for winter sports,” U.S. aerials coach Matt Saunders told AP. “There’s fewer and fewer places and all the glaciers are melting. It’s definitely getting harder and harder to get on snow early, for sure. We are having to travel further and further.”
Climate activists have also argued that frigid weather is consistent with global warming—former Vice President Al Gore said last month that bitter cold is “exactly what we should expect from the climate crisis”—prompting skeptics to accuse them of adjusting their theories to fit the latest weather patterns.
The International Olympic Committee has seen a drop in interest in cities interested in hosting both the summer and winter games, although for reasons related more to rising costs—Sochi spent a mind-boggling $51 billion—and lack of public support than climate change.
Six European localities have pulled out or opted not to make bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and only four cities have shown interest in the 2026 winter games.
• This story was based in part on wire-service reports.