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Record-breaking cold? PyeongChang braces for frigid weather ahead of Olympics

Freezing temperatures are expected during the PyeongChang Olympic Games. Athletes have prepared by wearing heated jackets, but spectators may be at risk.
Image: A volunteer walks by the Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza
A volunteer walks by the Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza as preparations continue for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 5, 2018.Charlie Riedel / AP

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The only thing more extreme than the Olympic sports is the weather here.

The Winter Olympics are slated to begin on Friday as temperatures in the South Korean city plunge.

While the athletes are prepared for the bone-chilling temperatures, worries about spectators catching hypothermia or staying home have been raised.

"The athletes are pretty well insulated for the hypothermia but, for somebody out here watching the sports, it can occur as quickly as 45 minutes," said Dr. Dave Weinstein, a physician with Team USA who specializes in orthopedic surgery.

A volunteer walks by the Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza as preparations continue for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 5, 2018.Charlie Riedel / AP

The city has already seen lows of -9 degrees, but Friday's forecast is expected to range from a high of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to a low of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, according to The Weather Channel. The first weekend is expected to see temperatures as low as 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meteorologists have likened the chill in South Korea to February weather in Des Moines, Iowa, or Albany, New York.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, said the committee has a contingency plan in case spectators decide to stay home.

"We are also preparing for that case. We will sell 100 percent of our tickets, and also have plan B for the no shows," he said.

Approximately 35,000 spectators, including world leaders and other dignitaries, are expected to watch the opening ceremony for about three hours on Friday.

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Volunteers will be handing out blankets and beanies to ensure all who watch are properly dressed. Wind shields and heat lamps have also been installed.

Over the course of the games, 100,000 spectators are expected to spend hours outside each day at the main venues. Thousands will also gather in the mountains at seven open-air venues, where temperatures can plummet to less than 10 degrees.

Although light snow showers are a possibility when the opening ceremony is held, the region generally sees less snow than other places at the same latitude and similar proximity to water due to the wind off mainland Asia, according to the Weather Channel.

Gusts from Siberia keep the air extremely cold and dry. If the winds stay to the east, there could be flash snowfalls in the mountains. Frigid winds are expected to make the cold even more intense.

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But athletes aren't worried and have prepared to stay warm regardless of the weather.

During Friday's opening ceremony, Team USA athletes will be fitted with special battery-powered heated jackets. An American Flag stitched into the interior of the jacket will heat up to keep athletes warm as they walk through the ceremony.

But spectators, who are just sitting still, could be more susceptible to the cold.

"I've definitely sent a few texts home, reiterating how cold it's going to be, like, 'Mom and dad, you have to pack because it's cold,'" Troy Murphy, a Team USA mogul skier, told NBC News on Monday.

Kalhan Rosenblatt contributed.