National

Record-low snowfall puts Niigata city's plan to cool Tokyo Olympic venues in jeopardy

Kyodo

A city in Niigata Prefecture, known for its abundant snowfall every year, was planning to send snow to soccer stadiums and other facilities to be used at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games to tackle the heat.

But amid record low snowfall this season, the city of Minamiuonuma’s plan is now in jeopardy. According to the Meteorological Agency, in the regions of Kanto, Tokai and Hokuriku, which includes Niigata, the amount of snow was only 15 percent of what they experience in January compared to an average year.

“I don’t recall ever having this little amount of snow during this season,” Mutsumi Seki, a Minamiuonuma official, said with a sigh while looking at a near-empty storage space for snow near a ski resort.

The plan during the Olympics is to create so-called snow coolers, or tents with snow-cooled air inside, at a few locations around Saitama Stadium and Saitama Super Arena, venues where soccer and basketball games will be held, respectively. They also plan to distribute around 10,000 snowpacks, or small snow-filled bags. The plan would require around 100 tons of snow or more, costing about ¥28 million. The bill is being split with the city of Saitama.

Minamiuonuma built a 2,500 square-meter snow storage facility two years ago that could store up to 1,600 tons of snow, in accordance with a plan to help cool down temperatures at events in the Tokyo metropolitan area during the summer.

But with the scant amount of snow, two out of the city’s 10 ski resorts aren’t able to operate because there is simply not enough. The city also had to cancel its annual snow festival.

“We want more snow, not rain,” said Seki, looking up at the low-hanging clouds.

The idea to use snow to tackle issues of heatstroke came from a Minamiuonuma official who attended a Saitama-hosted conference on local revitalization in November 2018, according to Saitama officials.

After using the snow on a trial basis in August last year, it proved to be popular with local residents, who said that they were grateful to be able to feel cooler and that it was fun to touch snow in summertime.

But since there is no guarantee that the Minamiuonuma area will be able to collect the requisite amount of snow this year, the city is considering gathering snow around the Sagurigawa Dam, located in the mountains.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the attraction of snowy countryside to the world,” said Seki. “I can only pray that there will be a great amount of snowfall” from here on.

“This year seems to be different from past years, but I believe the peak of snowfall is still to yet come,” said a Saitama official, adding that the city will be in close contact with Minamiuonuma.