Three years ago in Buffalo, when the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the inaugural Winter Classic game, light snow fell on Ralph Wilson Stadium. The scene was everything the NHL's event planners could have dreamed for.
Two years ago in Chicago, there was no snow but the weather cooperated just fine, and last year in Boston, things worked out as well. The story could be different when the NHL hosts the 2011 Winter Classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Saturday.
The forecast, according to AccuWeather.com, calls for a warm, wet New Years' Day, with rain and temperatures in the 50s. Those kind of temperatures aren't a problem for the outdoor ice rink, as they're able to create ice in temperatures upwards of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is a serious issue, though.
Light drizzle is about all the rink can handle. It would simply freeze over on the surface and the game would be played without issue. Anything heavier than drizzle would be an issue, however, because it would puddle on the rink. You can't push a hockey puck through a puddle, and there's no way to get rid of those puddles.
If the game is unable to be played, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that it will go off on Sunday, January 2. (That day has a similar forecast, by the way.)
Should we be worried at this point? Let's take last year as an example. On December 28, the forecast in Boston called for rain on New Years' Day. Three days later, skies were clear and the game went off without a hitch. Here's what Don Renzulli, an NHL Senior VP, had to say about that grim forecast a year ago.
"[The forecast] changes daily. Yesterday we were expecting one to two inches today. That didn't happen. We were expecting a 50 percent chance of snow on game day, and now it's looking like rain and about 37 [degrees]. I guess I'm used to just waiting a day or so because it will change. We will see what happens, and we will adjust to it in the next couple of days and through the nights."
The moral of the story? Wait and see.