The importance of weather assistance at major sporting events

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The world’s best ski jumpers and cross-country skiers are currently gathered in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (February 24 – March 7, 2021). However, one of the leading roles is being played by an experienced meteorologist. Joachim Schug from MeteoGroup Schweiz AG knows a thing or two about the perils awaiting the host and the athletes between mountains and valleys.

Some sports need proper wind to be fun. Sailing, for example, or windsurfing. For ski jumpers, a strong gust may make the difference not only between victory and defeat, but also between life and death. Therefore, organizing a ski jumping event is a highly responsible task. Essential support comes from professional meteorologists, who help organizers make important and often very rapid decisions. When will the wind calm down? Is a storm approaching? Do we have to postpone or even cancel the event?

The weather sensor’s role

At the Nordic World Ski Championships, Joachim Schug assumes that role. However, he is having to follow the event from his home in Appenzell, Switzerland, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Remote support increases the need for absolutely reliable weather data from the event itself. In Oberstdorf, this data is provided by a Lufft WS600 weather sensor.

The Lufft WS600 weather sensor

The weather sensor belonging to the local SC Oberstdorf ski club is right next to the jump-off platform. Take-off at over 90km/h is a key moment during the jumping process – which, with distances of around 140m, feels like flying.

Particularly relevant parameters for ski jumping are wind speed and direction. Since they can push or hamper a jump, these two parameters directly affect the rating: updraft allows for higher jumping distances and comes with a point penalty, whereas crosswind and tailwind add points to the rating.

In addition to the Lufft WS600, the organizers use six further anemometers along the ski-jumping hill to keep the whole jumping lane firmly in view.

Meteorological support for major events is a rapidly growing business area for MeteoGroup Schweiz AG. In addition to sporting events, the weather service provider supports festivals like the Wacken Open Air heavy-metal music festival. This discipline is called event weather.

“More and more organizers are running their own weather stations,” says Schug, who often recommends Lufft WS series weather sensors. “Locally limited weather events such as storms have a significant impact on the microclimate at the location itself, where the weather conditions can vary considerably from the surrounding weather stations operated by national weather services.”

Event weather is a growing business area

 In mountainous areas, usually the home of winter sports, monitoring the microclimate at the specific location is particularly important. “Organizers often ask very detailed questions that even the newest algorithms do not know the answer to,” continues Schug, who has been asked lots of questions requiring near-prophetic answers during his long career. These have included the following: “When will the fog go away? Will there be more than 0.5cm of snow within the next 10 minutes? Is the wind getting stronger or was this only a wind gust caused by the shock wave of a close avalanche?”

Snow height monitoring sensor Lufft SHM31 Pic: OTT HydroMet

In alpine skiing races, such as the Slalom World Cup in Adelboden, Switzerland, other meteorological parameters are important, too. To measure the snow height at the starting hut where the athletes begin their descent, the organizers installed a Lufft SHM31snow height monitoring sensor.

“Thanks to this device, the organizers know early if they have to mobilize additional staff to prepare the track,” Schug explains. Visibility is another relevant parameter. On foggy days, organizers paint blue lines on the snow to improve orientation. In cases of very dense fog, the race has to be canceled.

“If the fog is sticking to a mountain (a common phenomenon), satellite images or simulation models cannot provide reliable conclusions,” Schug adds. “In such cases you have to observe how the wind behaves along the valley. If it is continuously pouring into the valley, the fog cannot escape. Then, I cannot raise the organizers’ hopes to start the race.”

From a meteorological point of view, cross-country skiing is less complex. Usually, MeteoGroup Schweiz AG provides two or three weather forecasts per day, including air temperature, air pressure, relative humidity, wind and precipitation. Snow temperature is crucial for cross-country skiing because it affects the gliding properties of the skis.

“The teams tend to measure the snow temperature on their own and wax the skis according to their requirements and preferences,” Schug says.

Spring weather bothers athletes and organizers

Now, an early wave of spring has found its way into Allgäu, a region of Oberstdorf in the southwest of Bavaria. Ten hours of sunshine and temperatures of over 15ºC challenge athletes and organizers alike, as Schug explains: “The spring-like temperatures and the strong solar irradiance cause problems. The organizers and athletes are looking forward to the weekend which, according to our forecasts, should bring clouds and a bit of precipitation – but first and foremost lower temperatures.”

In a quick reaction, the organizers have rescheduled some competitions from lunchtime to the early morning. Short-term measures like this show the growing importance of experienced meteorologists and reliable sensors for major events. Therefore, Schug sees high potential when weather services like MeteoGroup Schweiz AG join forces with manufacturers of monitoring systems, like OTT HydroMet with its Lufft brand.

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