Statistically speaking, London doesn’t quite live up to its reputation as the ultimate soggy city: Its average annual rainfall of 23.6 inches actually measures lower than that in Paris, New York or Washington. Rather, its rainy rap comes from frequently overcast skies that more often drizzle than pour buckets, with its fast-moving weather tending to push strong storms through the urban area relatively quickly.
But wetter, cooler weather has gripped London and the rest of England this summer for one of the same reasons that the U.S. East Coast is suffering intense heat waves: jet stream air currents lingering farther south than is normal this time of year. That could mean a less stifling start to this year’s Olympics than, say, the London Games of 1948, when temperatures soared into the 90s during the initial sunny days. But chills and rain kicked in later during those games, catching blame for soggy tracks that had the fewest world records broken of any modern Olympic Games.
Just as then, prolonged bouts of rain during this year’s Games could have an impact on the results, albeit one difficult to calculate. Experts cite the Wimbledon men’s final this past Sunday. The roof over Centre Court, closed because of rain, changed the environment of the match, appearing to give a further edge to Roger Federer over his British rival, Andy Murray.
Long-term forecasting is notoriously difficult, particularly in Britain. While warning that predictions could change, Charles Powell, spokesman at the Met Office — the country’s national weather service — said conditions during the Olympics should show at least some improvement over the past several weeks, but could still end up being wetter than average.
“The current 30-day forecast shows signs that yes, we will still get some more heavy rainfall and a few fine days — a mixed bag, really,” Powell said. “There is no clear signal that we’re going to have prolonged warm and sunny weather.”
Kenneth Andreasen, coach of the U.S. sailing team, said most of the top teams have been training in the windy English Channel for years. The U.S. team’s full-time meteorologist regularly monitors currents and weather patterns on the five Olympic courses off Weymouth.
At the Beijing Games in 2008, Andreasen said, sailors were prepared for calmer seas and lighter wind, planning early to run up flatter sails. But competition in Britain could be more challenging — and potentially more exciting — because of the trademark unpredictably and fast-moving nature of its island weather.
“In Weymouth, we’re going to have to be prepared for anything,” Andreasen said. “Could be cold and rainy or absolutely sunny skies. We’re just not going to know from one day to the next.”
A British mind-set
Assuming that the current patch of historically bad weather subsides, Debbie Jevans, director of sport for the London Organizing Committee, insisted that athletes should not face undue problems “and could even find our temperate climate pleasing.”
Foreign spectators, meanwhile, will need to adopt a British mind-set. During a river pageant on the Thames last month to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne, more than a million hardy Britons braved the relentless rain and gloom with nary a complaint.
“I remember being in Vancouver for the Winter Games, and as they said then, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” Jevans said. “Look, if it rains, just bring an umbrella.”
Yet despite all the planning, heavy rainfall could lead to frequent rescheduling of events and set up transit nightmares in London, where hundreds of thousands of visitors in town for the Games will already be testing the region’s roads and public transportation systems.
Nevertheless, with the rain out of anyone’s control, Danny Boyle, the British director hired to stage the opening ceremonies, has opted to surrender to it, even celebrate it. He has vowed that if Mother Nature does not sprinkle on London on July 27, he will — promising fake clouds with artificial rain. That British-style embrace of the weather stands in sharp contrast to the Beijing Games, when the Chinese hired 32,000 people, set up 26 control stations and shot dry ice into the clouds above Beijing National Stadium to “squeeze” any rain out of them ahead of the festivities.
“We’re going to have some rain in the stadium whether it rains or not,” Boyle told Britain’s ITV. “We can’t let people leave the opening ceremony without having a little bit of rain, even if it’s the most beautiful day on earth.”
Karla Adam contributed to this report.