U meteorologist aids in 2010 Olympics

By By Jonathon Ng

By Jonathon Ng

Vancouver, Canada, is requesting help from the U for the 2008 Winter Olympics, as the university assisted with Salt Lake City’s own Olympics eight years ago.

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Committee needs the U to help with weather forecasting.

John Horel, U professor of meteorology, was part of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Weather Support team.

“Environment Canada, which is providing the weather support (for the 2010 Olympics), is doing a great job building on the legacies of prior weather support efforts during the past several Olympics,” Horel said. They have already discussed past efforts with several U meteorologists who were involved in the 2002 Olympics, he said.

Horel invented a thermal mapping technology used to log how temperature on a given snow course varied to predict snow conditions before the 2002 Olympics. It was first used at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

The technology uses an infrared sensor that picks up infrared radiation from the snow, portraying the temperature at a given location on the course. The sensor is placed on a snowmobile, which is then driven around the course and logs the temperature, creating a color-coded thermal map of how temperature changes.

The technology provides better snow temperature and characterizes forecasts.

“(This) gives every team a better chance of choosing the correct wax to level the playing field,” said Wendy Wagner,a graduate student in meteorology.

Wagner was a cross country ski racer on the U.S. ski team for eight years and participated in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. After retiring in 2006, she wanted to pursue her love of snow and now works with Horel to help with snow forecasting.

“Wendy’s participation in the project is essential since she provides the Vancouver forecast team with her unique perspective both as an athlete and a scientist,” Horel said.

Jim Steenburgh, chair of the department, said that the department of meteorology was important for weather prediction efforts during the 2002 Olympics.

“In addition to John’s thermal mapping efforts, we are also involved in training forecasters for the 2010 games,” he said.

Wagner has begun training 20 to 30 meteorologists in Canada. Wagner will return with Horel in August to resume training.

“We want to create something easy for (meteorologists) to use to help forecast for a certain condition,” she said.

Wagner is also working on the use of computer models to input data and display what the future snow surface temperature might be.

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