GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Olympic athletes are already under a lot pressure to win for their country. But this year, they didn’t just have to face their opponents, they also had to battle the heat.
Tokyo has a humid subtropical climate, meaning hot and muggy summers are unavoidable. When they hosted the Olympics in 1964, it was held in October to avoid the hottest weather.
Decades of global warming, an increase in the frequency of heatwaves and extensive urbanization has led to one of the most uncomfortable summers yet. This can be dangerous to the city of 14 million, and even more threatening for athletes who aren’t used to the extreme humidity.
Temperature well above 90 degrees, coupled with weak winds, made the air feel stagnant and the heat even more oppressive. This is why the Olympic marathon was moved to Japan’s northernmost island, where temperatures are a bit cooler.
The urban heat island effect also plays a big part in Tokyo’s weather. Building materials like asphalt, steel and concrete retain more of the sun’s radiation and, therefore, feel hotter than surrounding areas. The main Olympic stadium is built with these materials, which is why it appears bright red on the map.
The Olympic Village is built on the coast, with sea breezes and lower water temperatures allowing things to feel a bit more comfortable. Nearby green spaces are notably cooler as well.
Scientists found human-caused global warming has contributed to over a five-degree increase in average temperatures in Tokyo since 1900. That is nearly three times the global average.
This year, Tokyo saw one of the hottest Olympics in modern history. And with temperatures on the rise, it may be even hotter at the next games, scheduled for 2024 in Paris.