Sailing boats

Sports science

18 July 2012

The weather can have a huge impact on all sorts of sports — from cycling to surfing, cricket to beach volleyball. As the UK's national weather service, we're always there when it matters, applying our science so that people can make the most of the weather.

Many sports are affected by the weather in some way and conditions are important to athletes and spectators alike. Sometimes the impact of weather on sport is clear for all to see. It can help or hinder - headwinds make running and cycling harder, while tailwinds help push us forward. For instance, some world records are invalid if set under certain conditions.

Most of those participating in indoor sports like squash or badminton aren't too worried, although heat can affect athletes' performance, but for sports like sailing or windsurfing, the weather is central to the entire event. On the whole, dry and settled conditions are favoured by most competitors in most sports. However, high temperatures can be challenging, significantly affecting the performance of athletes and, in extreme cases, can cause heat illnesses such as heat cramps and heat stroke.

Spectator sport

But it's not just the athletes that suffer for their sport, as anyone who has spent the day watching their team in the rain will know. On top of that, stadiums often produce localised weather effects due to the shelter provided from the seating galleries, making them particularly warm and stuffy on hot days.

Many a British summer has been spent watching the cricket hoping the pitch doesn't become waterlogged during considerable breaks for the rain. Despite having a retractable roof on Centre Court since 2009, rain delays and frantically covering the court will still continue at Wimbledon. To help people make the most of weather windows, or duck for cover at the right time, we have the responsibility of forecasting the weather for major sporting occasions like Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Major sporting occasions

This year, we are providing forecasts for venues around the country throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This provides an opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of what we do, as we work with many different people to help them manage all the weather-related issues associated with making the Games a success. For example, we'll be working closely with the emergency response community and other teams responsible for security.

Big sporting events give us an opportunity to showcase some of the latest developments in our science. For example, detailed information on sailing conditions is so important that we're making use of cutting edge high-resolution models of Weymouth Bay to produce detailed wind and wave forecasts.

While rowers and canoeists favour light winds and warm temperatures to make decent progress through the water, for sailing events a steady wind direction and speed provide the ideal conditions. We have also installed a near-shore observation buoy off Weymouth Harbour to provide detailed weather observations to support weather forecasting for the sailing events.

Whether you're hoping to get out on the golf course or planning a trip to an Olympic arena, our science comes into play in all our forecasts to make sure you're fully prepared for sporting action this summer.

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