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Mark D. Powell
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Stephen K. Rinard

Abstract

A team of meteorologists from the United States, Canada, and Australia provided marine weather support to the sailing events of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, held in Wassaw Sound near Savannah, Georgia. The team conducted research on the weather and climate and developed a set of forecast products designed to inform athletes, volunteers, and race managers of the wind, tidal current, wave, and weather behavior expected each day during the pre-Olympic and Olympic periods. The Olympic period proved to be a challenge with thunderstorms delaying, abandoning, or postponing races on half of the days. Thunderstorm development and movement was linked to the timing and strength of the sea breeze as well as the direction and speed of the gradient wind. Numerous thunderstorm warnings were issued with the assistance of the WSR-88D radar and the Warning Decision Support System. Frequent lightning was a legitimate safety concern due to the long distances between race courses and lack of suitable shelter; fortunately no one was injured during the lightning episodes. Forecasters benefited from access to a variety of monitoring tools and models including real-time Olympic buoy wind and current time series displays; satellite and radar imagery animation; 2-, 8-, and 10-km resolution mesoscale models; a live video feed of race coverage; and communications with forecasters aboard patrol craft offshore. Official wind forecasts, mesoscale models, and a simple vector addition model performed better than climatology and persistence as defined by mean vector error and rms wind direction error. Climatology was difficult to beat on the basis of wind speed error.

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