Where's Sochi? Why are the Winter Olympics there?

Where's Sochi? It's a beach resort town on Russia's southern flank. Why might Sochi be a model for future Winter Olympics?

Rich Clabaugh/Staff
Where is Sochi? The town sits on the north shore of the Black Sea. A beach resort has been transformed to play host to the 2014 Olympic Games.

Sochi, Russia, might seem an unlikely place for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

For starters, there's little or no snow. But there are palm trees.

Sochi sits on the Black Sea, on Russia's southwestern flank. Until recently, it was known to most Russians as a summer resort town. It has a subtropical climate, meaning that it has at least eight months with a mean temperature of 50 degrees F., according to the Köppen climate classification system.

In the land famous for its sub-zero Siberian winters, some have called Sochi the "Miami Beach" of Russia.

So, don't be surprised if you spot some athletes in short-sleeve shirts on Friday, during the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Temperatures are forecast to hit a low of 37 degrees F. and a high of 49 degrees. And that, according to The Weather Channel 10-day forecast, may be the coldest day of the next week.

Why, then, are the Winter Olympics in Sochi?

Like Vancouver in 2010, there are mountains about 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) away, where there is snow. At least, most of the time.

Russia's Olympic planners have gone to great lengths to insure that there will be enough snow in Rosa Khutor, where the downhill skiing, bobsledding, and other events will be held. They've built one of the most extensive snowmaking systems in Europe, including 400 snow cannons fed by two reservoirs of water.

If it's too hot to make snow, even at night in the mountains, there is a plan B.

Russia has been squirreling away snow from the previous winters in 10 giant stockpiles in the mountains. If needed, that snow can be released and slid into position down giant half-pipes.

Of course, the weather won't really be an issue for the venues in Sochi itself. The five arenas that host figure skating, speed skating, hockey, and curling are all indoors, with underfloor cooling systems.

Temperatures rising

While Russia has gone to great lengths and record expense to host the 2014 Winter Games, Sochi may in fact be a window on future Winter Olympics.

Climatologists say global warming is pushing up temperatures faster in polar regions than around the equator, reports The Verge.

The February daytime temperature of Winter Games locations averaged out at 32.7 F. between the 1920-'50s, but have soared to 46.0 F. at Olympics held this millennium. "Despite technological advances, there are limits to what current weather risk management strategies can cope with," said Daniel Scott from the University of Waterloo, who led the research. "By the middle of this century, these limits will be surpassed in some former Winter Olympic host regions."

Hans Linderholm, a climatologist at the University of Gothenburg, told The Verge: "It will be more problematic than ever to find suitable and snow-safe places. It's likely the use of indoor arenas will become more common in the future. Then the Winter Games can be held almost anywhere — even Qatar!"

In other words, we may have to get used to seeing Shaun White doing post-event interviews under palm trees.

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