By Danica Kirka
LONDON — After a sodden spring, is Britain heading for a summer washout?
It’s lurched from the cold, wet drizzle that dampened the queen’s Diamond Jubilee flotilla on the Thames to a sea of mud at the Isle of Wight music festival to frequent delays at Wimbledon, where even the retractable roof couldn’t make the event all strawberries and cream.
And now that the country has recorded its wettest June on record, should Olympic officials be concerned? The games are just 21 days away.
“Oh, goodness! It’s only a bit of British weather,” said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met office, the national forecaster. “It’s naturally variable.”
Britain is an island nation, at the mercy of winds scooping up water from the Atlantic Ocean and breezes bringing in dry air from the European continent. There’s a reason trench coats are classic here. This is a country that can have four seasons in an afternoon, where one should never leave home without both an umbrella and sunglasses.
In other words, if the weather is not to your liking, hang on, it will change. Things weren’t looking promising on Friday, though, as Britain’s Environment Agency issued nearly 100 flood alerts. Forecasters warned Britain to brace for a month’s rain in 24 hours.
And if things don’t brighten up, London Olympic organizers say they are ready for every eventuality.
“The main thing is that we are used to it and we have planned accordingly,” said Debbie Jevans, director of sport for the games. “It is something that is a fact of life. That is why our country is so lovely and green.”
There are five different sailing routes at Weymouth, on England’s south coast, in case of poor weather. The BMX cycling track has a cover and improved drainage following lessons learned from downpours during a test event.
Care has also gone into drainage at the equestrian venue at London’s Greenwich Park. This is likely to be extremely important — several big British equestrian events, including the Badminton Horse Trials, were rained out this year because the ground was too sodden.
Plans have been drawn to make sure organizers and spectators get the most up-to-date information possible. Five Met Office forecasters will be embedded with the games and working around the clock, providing long- and short-range forecasts for the event, which starts July 27 and ends Aug. 12.
The sport most susceptible to rain is tennis, as any Wimbledon fan will tell you. Wet grass is problematic for players, who can easily slip and suffer injury — so you can’t just “keep calm and carry on” the way athletes can if they are playing, say, beach volleyball.
Some extreme weather patterns may cause some delays if the safety of athletes and spectators is endangered. That includes thunderstorms and lightning bolts — as in the atmosphere, not the kind coming from the speedy shoes of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Beyond that, the Olympics will go on.
That hasn’t stopped bookmakers from going into overdrive over all the rain-soaked bets that can be placed. British bookmaker Ladbrokes has offered odds at 50-to-1 that it will rain every day at Olympic Stadium in east London. The odds are 25-to-1 that the weather causes the flame to go out during the opening ceremony and 500-to-1 that the person lighting the flame will be wearing an umbrella hat.
The only time rain is assured is during the opening ceremony. Director Danny Boyle has written it into his script and made provisions should the heavens not comply.
It’s too early even for predictions, with the Met office saying it will have a good idea only five days before an event. London Games chair Sebastian Coe has proclaimed himself unconcerned, though he says he’ll “have a flicker of nervousness about it” on July 27, the day of the opening ceremony.
Weather is a great unifying factor in Britain, where the BBC shipping forecast is a national tradition and where Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, won rave reviews for reading the weather report on TV during a visit to BBC studios in Glasgow, Scotland.
The sight of the heir to the British throne giving a credible performance as a weatherman prompted Britain’s Sun newspaper to wonder if there was “any chance of reign?”
No matter what, the Brits will press on. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip have showed the way. During the Jubilee flotilla, they stood under an awning for hours, watching the parade through wind and rain as if it were blazing sunshine.
Beyond that, Olympic organizers are urging spectators to be prepared. Bring a hat. Bring an umbrella — a small one because big ones are banned.
And take sunscreen. Because you never know.
— Associated Press Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this story.