WEATHER Wise

The winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, will see the deployment of the most sophisticated weather apparatus in any sporting event.

Hiromichi Ito is the chief weather forecaster for the Winter Olympics in Nagano and heads a 45-strong team who will be keeping a 24-hour alert over a foridable battery of forecasting apparatus. There is state-of-the- art Doppler radar (as seen in the film Twister), laser equipment for monitoring cloud formations, and a supercomputer that will analyse the data and produce forecasts for each venue quickly enough to decide whether competitions should be called off. Their concern goes beyond the sporting events: weather is also a problem for crowd control.

After initial worries when the snow was late in arriving, Ito says: "There is now absolutely no concern that there won't be enough snow for the competitions." A cold front is expected to bring still more snow in the next few days, but there are plenty of other things to worry about. First, the men's downhill course is high on Mount Karamatsu and vulnerable to fog-like conditions. It can even be sunny at the bottom of the course while a blizzard blows at the top.

Then there is the "snow-eater", a heavy, warm wind that blows in from the Japan Sea that may sweep up the snow. This usually arrives later in the year, but has been known to blow in February.

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