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Mark D. Powell and 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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Lans P. Rothfusz, Melvin R. McLaughlin, and Stephen K. Rinard

The 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, received weather support from the National Weather Service (NWS). The mandate to provide this support gave the NWS an unprecedented opportunity to employ in an operational setting several tools and practices similar to those planned for the “modernized” era of the NWS. The project also provided a glimpse of technology and practices not planned for the NWS modernization, but that might be valuable in the future. The underlying purpose of the project was to protect the life and property of the two million spectators, athletes, volunteers, and officials visiting and/or participating in the games. While there is no way to accurately account for lives and property that were protected by the NWS support, the absence of weather-related deaths, significant injuries, and damaged property during the games despite an almost daily occurrence of thunderstorms, high temperatures, and/or rain indicates that the project was a success. In fact, popular perception held that weather had no effect on the games. The 2000+ weather bulletins issued during the 6-week support period suggest otherwise. The authors describe the many facets of this demanding and successful project, with special attention given to aspects related to operational forecasting. A postproject survey completed by the Olympics forecasters, feedback provided by weather support customers, and experiences of the management team provide the bases for project observations and recommendations for future operational forecasting activities.

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