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February 20, 2018
Magnolia Banner News

Columbia County to see warmer, wetter weather as Winter Olympians in Korea struggle with frigid conditions

By J.D. Bailey
This article was published February 13, 2018 at 11:48 a.m.

After a brief warm snap that produced a foggy, muggy Saturday, winter, and its crisp temperatures made their way back to southwest Arkansas early Sunday, and with it brought nearly an inch of rainfall. But in the coming days and weeks, a warmer, more precipitation-filled pattern for Columbia County is expected. Multiple weather services are predicting Magnolia and its surrounding areas to see highs reaching even into the mid-70s by Thursday – a far cry from the breezy and chilly conditions seen Monday when the unofficial high hit just 41 degrees.

The warm, rainy weather may not simply be a mid-February aberration. Many long-range forecasts call for higher than normal temperatures throughout most of February, along with multiple chances of precipitation over the coming weeks. This week alone, chances for showers occur every day until Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The federal agency also predicts the trend to last at least until the end of the month. Daily highs are soon expected to regularly reach into the 60s, with lows ranging from the mid-40s to mid-50s. Rainfall models also show the coming weeks to be wetter than normal, with at least a chance of rain or thundershowers in all but three days from Valentine’s Day through Feb. 26. The weather forecasts, however, are only that, and are always subject to change.

Unexpectedly, though, the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week showed Columbia County still in a region deemed “abnormally dry” – even considering the recent wet weather. The next USDA drought report comes on Feb. 15, but if area lake levels are any indicator, the government information could be slightly exaggerated. Just two weeks ago, Lake Columbia officials reported its spillway was overflowing, indicating the Magnolia water supplier was more than full due to rain accumulation. And nearby Lake Erling this weekend rose again after being down nearly 8 feet in October due to a maintenance drain combined with a prolonged fall drought. As of Monday morning, the Walker Creek lake sits at approximately 221.5 feet MSL (mean sea level) and rising – just 1.5 feet from being designated as “full.” With additional rain runoff, Erling could easily reach 223 feet MSL in the coming weeks, especially with additional predicted rainfall.

As warmer weather begins to creep into Columbia County, the same cannot be said for the host country of and XXIII Winter Olympics currently taking place on the opposite side of the globe. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that host city PyeongChang, South Korea, and its mountainous surroundings are so cold, numerous outdoor events are seeing chaos in their scheduling and fans that traveled from afar fled for the exits.

With up to 45 mph winds, the already single digit lows have blistered spectators and athletes alike. Sunday’s qualifying round for women’s slopestyle snowboarding was even called off after the athletes all but lost control of their sport because of high winds, and Monday’s final started 75 minutes late. Of the 50 runs, 41 ended with a fall or a rider essentially giving up. The temperature dropped to 3 Fahrenheit, with high winds.

“It has to be absolutely petrifying, terrifying, being up that high in the air, and having a gust 30 mph coming sideways at you,” said United States Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Tiger Shaw.

American Jamie Anderson won the gold medal by watching most of her competitors struggle and then completing a conservative run that paled in comparison to her winning performance at the X Games just two weeks ago.

Many of the snowboarders didn’t think they should have been out there.

“You’re going up the chairlift and you see these little tornadoes,” said Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancohova, who finished 16th, “and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

At ski jumping, giant netting was set up to reduce the wind that can blow at three times the optimal velocity for the sport. Didn’t help all that much, though: The men’s normal hill final on Saturday was pushed back repeatedly and eventually finished after midnight.

“It was unbelievably cold,” said Japan’s Noriaki Kasai, competing at his record eighth Olympics. “The noise of the wind at the top of the jump was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that on the World Cup circuit. I said to myself, ‘Surely, they are going to cancel this.’”

Alpine skiing, meanwhile, still hasn’t been able to get started at all, leaving stars like Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway waiting for their turn in the spotlight. Each of the first two races on the program — the men’s downhill Sunday, and the women’s giant slalom Monday — were called off hours before they were supposed to begin. Both of those have been moved to Thursday, when things are supposed to become slightly more manageable.

The forecast calls for more high winds Tuesday and Wednesday, although temperatures are expected to climb to 26.

“I am pretty sure that soon,” men’s race director Markus Waldner said with a wry smile, “we will have a race.”

Until then, he and other officials are left trying to come up with contingency plans and ways to get the full 11-race Alpine program completed before the Olympics are scheduled to close on Feb. 25.

As it is, logistical complications are real concerns.

Waldner pointed out that he needs to figure out a way to get three men’s races — the combined, downhill and super-G — completed by Friday, because there is only one hotel right by the speed course at the Jeongseon Alpine Center. The male skiers need to vacate their rooms to make way for their female counterparts, whose speed events are supposed to begin Saturday.

“Now, it’s getting tight,” he said.

Even those attending indoor events have been tested. Long, cold waits for buses have left workers, media and fans complaining.

Those involved in winter sports are used to this sort of thing, of course.

At the 2007 Alpine world championships in Sweden, for example, strong winds wiped out first three days of competition. At the 1993 world championships in Japan, the men’s super-G was never contested.

Can happen the other way, too. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the first two Alpine races were postponed because of rain and — get this — too-warm temperatures in the 40s. The entire Alpine world championships slated for Spain in 1995 were rescheduled for a whole year later because of a lack of snow.

“That’s a piece of the puzzle that, I guess, fortunately or unfortunately is part of our world,” U.S. Alpine men’s speed coach Johno McBride said. “You’re dealing with Mother Nature.”

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