Pyeongchang, South Korea, is prepped for the 2018 Winter Olympics: The venues are ready to go, the athletes have arrived, and early reports are that everything in the Olympic Village is running smoothly—save for an outbreak of norovirus. The main concern before Friday’s opening ceremony? The cold.
Built to hold 35,000 people, the open-air pentagonal Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics. The stadium is a temporary structure that will be dismantled after the Olympics are over, and one of the ways organizers saved money and time was by building the structure without a roof or heating.
That could be a problem. In a news conference on Wednesday, the Korean Meteorological Administration reported that at 8:00 p.m. local time in Pyeongchang—when the opening ceremony is set to begin—it should be between 23 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The agency says that’s about normal for February temperatures in the region, where lows regularly drop to 14 degrees.
Those temperatures might not seem that bad to many in the United States, but Pyeongchang’s notoriously cold winds will add an additional factor for the crowds. At the opening ceremony rehearsal on Saturday, the wind chill lowered temperatures to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit. And winter athletes—accustomed to years of cold-weather sports—have already taken to social media with comments about the icy weather.
It's only about -5 degrees, but the wind makes if feel absolutely Baltic. Hate to think how cold it will feel if the temperature drops to -20 like it was here last week! #PyeongChang2018 pic.twitter.com/yb4AaLDDco— Andrew Musgrave (@musgraveandrew) February 3, 2018
That type of cold can be dangerous; this past November, seven people reportedly suffered hypothermia while attending a concert at the Olympic Stadium while others huddled in the bathrooms to keep warm.
In acknowledgement of the potential cold, officials will provide each spectator at the opening and closing ceremonies with a small blanket, a rain coat, and a heating pad. The ceremony has been cut to a quick two-hour march instead of the typical four-hour procession, and organizers have also installed heat shelters, large heaters, and windshields to try and make spectators more comfortable. U.S. team athletes will beat the windchill thanks to heated jackets designed by Ralph Lauren.
If it seems bizarre that cold might be a factor at the Winter Olympics, that’s because over the past few years the Winter Games have been plagued by warm temperatures, not cold ones. In 2014 in Sochi—a sub-tropical city in Russia—athletes faced the warmest-ever Winter Olympics, with temperatures hotter than some days at the London Summer Olympics.
Vancouver was also an abnormally warm Winter Games, as was Torino, Italy in 2006. In fact, there hasn’t been a wintry Winter Games since Lillehammer in 1994, which was allegedly the coldest games on record. Lillehammer clocked in the lowest recorded low temperature at a Winter Games at 12 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on how things shape up in Pyeongchang, the 2018 Winter Olympics could rival those temperatures.