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Outdoor Events: How to Navigate Weather

‘Tis the season for outdoor events! Here’s how to plan for the weather, rain or shine.
‘Tis the season for outdoor events! Here’s how to plan for the weather, rain or shine. Image by

In a couple weeks, it will officially be summer. Although indoor dining is back in most places, outdoor events are still safer, and who wants to be cooped up after a year of isolation? It’s safe to say that outdoor events have more appeal than ever. But even if COVID-19 is finally starting to cooperate, the weather doesn’t always! Here are some ways you can plan for the best and worst of it.

1. Have a Backup Plan

Although summer is usually hot and sunny, rainy days are unavoidable in most regions. Since you can’t predict the weather in the planning phases of your event, you’ll want to have a backup plan. For some outdoor events, such as carnivals or outdoor pool parties, rain or other inclimate weather is a deal breaker. In those cases, setting a rain date (or two, if your region is particularly prone to rain or unpredictable weather) is probably your best bet.

Sometimes the date can be saved even when the weather misbehaves. But before we talk about backup planning for the day of your event, let's highlight the importance of choosing the best possible day (or night). Depending on where you live, some dates might be more ideal than others. For example, if you’re holding your event in an area where ticks, mosquitoes, or pesky flies are prevalent, take that into account. In some areas, bugs are more of a problem when the heat and humidity is at its worst, such as in August. Sometimes they’re peskier during the day than at night. If you’re holding an event in an area you’re not super familiar with, do some research on its weather and insect patterns.

If it’s impossible to avoid some serious mugginess (and bugginess), take some precautions. For example citronella candles set a tranquil mood at night- for everyone except your perskiest guests. Mosquitoes in particular are repelled by citronella, so enough of these aromatic candles keeps them at a distance. Bonfires are also an atmospheric summer staple, and they keep bugs at arm’s length, too. Food and drink covers can be made cute with umbrellas for sweet cocktails or decorative covers for food trays. This is especially necessary if you’re offering an outdoor buffet. You can spray pesticides pre-party, but you’ll want to make sure no one has chemical allergies or sensitivities beforehand. Natural repellants like lavender spray work wonders, too.

Sometimes you’ll encounter bigger problems than insects, such as rain or severe weather. Even if you do have a rain date, weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes strong winds occur or a storm strikes on a sunny day, making outdoor events unpleasant or unsafe. That’s why it’s important to have an evacuation plan. The venue of your choice should be strategic in helping you create your evacuation plan- which brings us to our next tip.

2. Make Space for Inclimate Weather

We mean this quite literally. When choosing a venue for your outdoor event, consider how well the space could accommodate your back-up or evacuation plan. Obviously, every venue is different. Event design and crowd density are important, too. For example, it’s fairly easy to evacuate a large, open space such as a lawn during a fireworks show. But what about a concert or sports stadium where people are sitting close together? That takes more time and requires a well-crafted plan for the quickest, safest evacuation. Having a weather-monitoring system in place is a big plus. These days, there are free weather monitoring available apps you can download from your phone. It won’t yield the kind of information that a personal meteorologist might, but not everyone can or feels the need to go pro.

Want to go pro? For a large-scale event, such as an outdoor festival or concert, it may be your best bet to keep crowds safe. The bigger the event, and the denser the crowds, the harder it is to evacuate. Commercial weather services can give you a head start by predicting subtle weather patterns, such as how far away a storm or lightning is at any given moment. Sometimes being prepared ahead of time is the best way to head off chaos and be the calm in a storm.

How do you know when to bide your time or cut your event short? Yes, professional weather experts with skills and instruments on their side can advise you. But common sense goes a long way, too. For example, a smaller event with low-density crowds can probably try to wait out light rain under a tent or cover. If you’re having a pool party, make sure there are covered or indoor festivities to keep attendees busy if they need to wait out a sun shower. Indoor games, activities, or swimming options are ideal for kid-friendly events. For a larger event, there’s not as much leniency. It takes more time to get large crowds evacuated, so you’ll usually have to start sooner if a storm hits.

3. Create an Effective Communication Protocol

Establishing an excellent communication protocol is a team effort. Your venue, vendors, and all event staff should be on the same page about how to handle inclimate weather and emergencies. Know who you’re going to contact in case of an emergency. Larger events require on-site support to assist with evacuation and safety procedures if necessary. Never try to develop a protocol without the input of venue owners. They know the space better than anyone, and can troubleshoot potential issues with the protocol, heading off disaster.

Once you’ve developed your protocol, you’ll need to communicate it early to your attendees. You might want to do this during the registration process. As much as you try to stay engaged with attendees in the weeks before your event- and you hope they do their part- some people ignore emails until the day of the event. Connecting with attendees on social media and long-term relationship-building helps; this way, you can post inclimate weather and emergency protocols on status updates, making them more visible. And sure, there will be dedicated staff at your event to direct attendees. But the more prepared they are, the smoother the process will be if it happens.

Of course, if your back-up plan is an alternate date, inform your attendees of that early on as well. This way, you give them a chance to save your date and still attend your event if possible.

4. Keep Things Cool

Yes, you want your summer event to be hot in more ways than one. But you don’t want it to get too hot! In some regions, summer heat can become dangerous, especially when you’re directly under the sun. This is especially true in desert regions that regularly reach temperatures in the 100’s- or tropical areas where the humidity can be overwhelming. Attendees may have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, that make extreme heat more dangerous for them. Various medical conditions, and the medications that treat them, can make people more susceptible to heat stroke or other complications. Be sure to provide more than adequate water and shade in extremely hot and/or humid temperatures. If your event doesn’t feature a pool to cool off in, you may want to choose a venue that has some cool indoor space where guests can get a break from the heat.

Yacht or boating party in progress? No need to sweat the heat. You can cool things off with a misting system, shade structures, or small, well-placed fans. If you’re in a large yacht with dense crowds, turn up the AC.

5. Have a Back-Up Venue

Sometimes having a back-up venue can save you the trouble of setting an alternate date. Let’s say you’re holding an after-hours party at a waterpark. A possible alternate venue would be an indoor waterpark. That’s just one example- there are plenty of other situations in which events can be moved indoors. Concerts, outdoor theater, weddings, and many other types of gatherings could also benefit from a back-up venue.

What if Your Event is Rain or Shine?

If your event is happening rain or shine, be prepared! Tarpaulin tents have saved many conferences and other outdoor events from inclimate weather. If you’re having a kid-friendly party, have some rainy day activities up your sleeve in case rain puts a damper on outdoor fun. Plan indoor (or undercover) activities for adult events, too. Let’s say you’re planning a day of outdoor yoga under the sun, but suddenly lightning strikes and the sky falls down- not exactly a tranquil experience. But if you have large tents nearby, the peace doesn’t have to be disturbed (at least not for long). You can simply take the session indoors. Tarpaulin tents can create an ambient atmosphere, and provides a warm and toasty space to listen to the rain falling down outside.

If you think the rain might cool things down, offer both toasty and chill beverages and foods. You should also advise guests to bring weather-appropriate clothing or items in case of rain. You may even want to go the extra mile and offer rain jackets, blankets, and hot chocolate if it’s really coming down hard. Simple concessions like these can help your event transition smoothly, rain or shine. Stay tuned for more summer event tips as we get back to normal!

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