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Will these be the coldest Winter Olympics ever?

Olympics Wire logo Olympics Wire 2/9/2018 Chris Chase
Agence France-Presse © Agence France-Presse Agence France-Presse

Short answer: maybe?

Sub-zero temperatures greeted athletes, media and fans last week in Pyeongchang and kept the open-air Olympic Stadium frigid for the Opening Ceremony. Over 35,000 attendees (one of whom was shirtless) stood around in temperatures just below freezing. But a warm-up is expected in the South Korean mountain town, which could turn the bitter cold temperatures (which were even concerning to Canadian athletes) into just pretty-cold temps.

At a rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony on Sunday, temperatures at the Olympic Stadium were below zero (F). There a relative heat wave for the real thing on Friday night - key word being "relative" - with a high near freezing. Forecasts suggest it'll stay cold though the weekend (the mercury is predicted to only top out at 28 degrees on Sunday) but by the middle of next week, temperatures should hit more comfortable highs in the mid-40s.

The wind may not be as cooperative. Gusts of up to 40 mph are expected in the coming days, which could be enough to shut down skiing events and other competitions in the mountains.

a man riding skis down a snow covered slope © Getty

If the forecast holds, Pyeongchang likely won't top the all-time record for coldest Winter Olympics, which is held by the Lillehammer Games in 1994. Those Norwegian Games had average temperatures hovering around 12 degrees (F).

After balmy conditions at the last two Games (Vancouver and Sochi), the cold was welcome to South Korean organizers who didn't have to fret about snowless mountains or melting ice. Some athletes might like it too - skiers perform different in all conditions and a frozen surface would surely benefit some over others. But for most of the attendees in Pyeongchang, the cold will be the topic (once the norovirus clears).

Even with the daytime highs, lows are still expected to be in the teens. And given that most of the skiing and snowboarding events will take place in the morning in South Korea, whatever the high temperature is at 3 p.m. won't be of much relevance.

Getty © Getty Getty

It's important to note that measuring the temperature of an Olympics is a highly inexact science. Venues are spread out over many miles and altitudes. The temperature at the Olympic Village won't be nearly the same as up in the mountains for the skiing events or even at the Olympic Stadium. These venues are spread out over a wide swath of land in the northern part of the country. Temperatures in Jeongseon, the site of the downhill skiing course, were close to 10 degrees below zero during the chill this week.

And the fact that the Olympics last for two weeks makes a "coldest Olympics" designation even harder. In two days the temperature in Pyeongchang has risen more than 30 degrees.

This February has been colder than average for Pyeongchang, which averages highs of 32 degrees (F) and lows of 14. This map shows what the average February temperature is like compared to North American cities. (Think Des Moines and Albany, albeit with far less snowfall than the latter.)

Temperatures at the 2014 Sochi Olympics frequently hit the mid-60s, which sometimes made the Winter Games warmer than the previous Summer Games in London. And the Vancouver Games of 2010 happened to coincide with the warmest stretch the city had ever seen in February. Those Olympics saw average temperatures between 45-50 degrees. Both were Winter Olympic warmth records that had just been set in the Turin Olympics of 2006 (average temps: 44 degrees).

According to information gathered by meteorologist Alex Lamers, the Games with the warmest previous temperature was the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. His data suggests the usual Olympic temperature is just under freezing with 10 Winter Games hovering its average between 25-35 degrees (F). Just three Winter Olympics have had average temperatures lower than the usual Pyeonchang average of 22.2 degrees (F).

Will the 2018 Games set a record? Only Mother Nature can say. Either way, bundle up, Olympians. Or get a $2,000 heated jacket.

You know, one or the other.

Agence France-Presse © Agence France-Presse Agence France-Presse

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Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony on Feb. 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. 2018 Winter Olympics
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