The countdown is on for the 2020 Summer Olympics: just 315 days until athletes and spectators descend upon Toyko in the middle of the summer.
But, spoiler alert, it gets really hot in Tokyo in the middle of the summer. The average temperature the past 10 years for Tokyo on July 24, the date of the Opening Ceremonies, is 87.4 degrees, and humidity levels in the Japanese capital are known to skyrocket during the summer.
That has organizers worried about heat-related danger for athletes and fans. Close to 60 people died in Japan this summer during a week-long heat wave; 45 of those deaths were the result of heatstroke, officials said. More than 18,000 were brought to hospitals with heat-related conditions, government officials said.
Olympic officials have a number of solutions to keep fans and athletes cool during the Games, including stadiums designed to channel cool air over the stands and track, mist towers, hydration stations and extra shade.
But all that may not be enough. On Friday, Toyko 2020 organizers tested an artificial snow machine at the Sea Forest Waterway, a venue for canoe and kayak events. They packed the stands with journalists and blasted 661 pounds of fake snow onto the crowd.
The machines make snow by crushing ice and mixing it with air, according to the BBC. They can cover nearly 50 feet in windy conditions. All that flying frost should, in theory, make the area where people are seated cooler. That’s important at the Sea Forest Waterway, where half of the 2,000 fans won’t be seated in shade because of budget cuts that led architects to scrap plans for larger overhead coverings.
So did the snow cannon work? Not on this trial run.
The temperature at the venue was 77 degrees Fahrenheit before the snow went flying. Afterward, the temperature was still 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Takashi Okamura, head of communication for the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, told the BBC the result was “not as expected.”
“The advantage of this machine is having a spray device to help the audience feel refreshed,” he said. “And the amusement factor.”
“Today is just a first trial,” added Tomoaki Matsumoto of the Tokyo 2020 venue services department. “But it is possible for us to use it.”
Olympic officials have suggested a host of other heat-mitigation strategies. The government is considering asking businesses near Olympic events to open their doors and windows and blast their air conditioning into the street, according to Japanese news site Sora News.
The government also considered implementing a two-hour daylight saving time, the BBC reported, but the proposal was met with harsh opposition from workers fearful it would lengthen business hours.
Already, some events are slated to start at the crack of dawn to avoid the hottest midday hours. The marathon at the 2020 Games, for example will begin at 6 a.m.
“The Tokyo marathon normally gets [a half-million] to 1 million spectators. Even if 0.1 percent of them get ill from heat, that would amount to 500 to 1,000 people,” Makoto Yokohari, a professor of urban engineering at the University of Tokyo, told The Washington Post in 2018 as officials began considering heat-related issues. “Tokyo currently does not have the capability to rescue that many people, though starting at 6 may mean fewer spectators.”
The organizing committee also has marketed umbrella hats because past Olympic events have prohibited fans from bringing their own umbrellas for shade or their own drinks because of security and sponsorship concerns.
Organizers are reportedly considering relaxing those rules for 2020.
Tokyo organizers downplayed the city’s summer climate in their bid to the International Olympic Committee, telling the IOC that it had “many days of mild and sunny weather” and the conditions presented “an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best.”
Officials are scrambling to make those words ring true. The previous time Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics, in 1964, competition began in mid-October, but the Games haven’t started that late in the year since 1968. The IOC prefers the July and August time frame to accommodate their broadcast partners and to avoid scheduling conflicts with the likes of the NFL and international soccer.
“The ideal conclusion,” Yokohari said, “is not to do it in Tokyo at that time of the year.”