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9 Event Pros on Their Biggest Weather-Related Disasters

Even the best contingency plans get derailed by extreme conditions.

By Alesandra Dubin November 9, 2015, 7:00 AM EST

Photo: Courtesy of YourBash

Weather contingency preparation is a standard part of event planning and production protocol. But sometimes weather can be so severe that it upsets the best-laid plans. Industry professionals share how they dealt with extreme conditions, from a massive tent crumpling to a red carpet flooding.

“We knew it was possibly going to rain [on the Emmy awards load-in week this year] but we hadn’t had rain [in Los Angeles] in so long, so we had no idea it would be so torrential. We got [to the site] on Tuesday morning [ahead of the show] and there were maybe three inches of water drenching the carpets [in the various tents we’d already set up]. So we were in there with knives trying to cut it up because the carpet was covering the drains as we didn’t [expect the downpour]. Eventually we just had to bring in all new carpet. The worst part was the Fox production office was also flooded; we had to bring in a company that spent the whole day wet vac-ing all the water out. We had 150 fans also going, and we were working around these giant chandeliers on the ground, and all the drape. You think that you’re ahead of schedule—you take two steps forward and the rain put us 15 steps back. Then on Emmy day, I think it was the hottest day in September on record. We had the air-conditioner going overnight for days to try to cool it down.”
Brian Worley, partner and co-owner, YourBash, Los Angeles

“The Dallas-Fort Worth area got slammed with an unexpected snow and ice storm during the Super Bowl in 2011. The city was unprepared for the weather and basically paralyzed. Driving was hazardous and dangerous, making getting from event to event a hassle. I was hired to handle the publicity for ESPN’s Next event at the River Ranch. Arrivals had to be outside due to the layout of the venue, but due to the weather, last-minute arrangements had to be made to help make the guests more comfortable in order to stop and do the red carpet outside. So we did the best we could with production creating a plan of erecting last-minute tents with stand-alone heaters for the outside arrivals in order to help keep everyone warm. I had hot coffee and hot chocolate set up for media, staff, and anyone else who wanted and we just bundled up and did the best we could. The main issue that was out of our control from any standpoint was the drive to and from the event—the roads were iced over and the city couldn’t salt or make the roads safe in a timely fashion. We had a great event in spite of the weather … and I ended up with walking pneumonia.”
Stacey Wechsler-Manasco, owner, Hired Gun Publicity & Consulting, Palm Beach, Florida

“I was having a press event at a lounge in downtown New York City. It was 100-plus degrees outside and the fire department had the side street with the lounge blocked off due to a fire in another building. The poor press had to get out of their cabs and walk a block at least to get to the venue and they arrived sweating. We had the venue turn up the air-conditioning and had waiters greeting everyone at the door with huge glasses of ice water. Thankfully the lounge had beds so everyone was able to lie down and cool off.”
Jane Coloccia Teixeira, president and chief creative officer, JC Communications L.L.C., Dana Point, California

“While working on a Brazilian beach-theme event in New York at an exposed hotel pool, it started raining—pouring in fact—20 minutes before arrivals. My team had to immediately make the decision to strike all our decor and bring it into an interior bar area a third of the size, set it up quickly, and make it look good before all the media guests arrived. Suffice to say, helping the client pull the trigger to relocate and ensure we were able to execute the event took more engineering then the move. At the end of the day, everyone had a good time and the experience communicated the brand's DNA in spite of the weather.”
Joe Moller, president, Joe Moller Events, Los Angeles

“New York State Fair way back on Labor Day 1998, what is known as the Labor Day storm. Evening concert ended about 11 p.m. [for] 10,000-plus people. [It was the] last day for concerts, and dozens of workers [were] tearing down the stage. We called State Fair officials and gave them 45 minutes' notice of a very strong storm. At 1:30 a.m., the storm hit the fairgrounds with 100 mile-per-hour winds. State of emergency. Three deaths from campers on the fairgrounds, but all workers went to safety.”
Wayne Mahar, president, Precision Weather Service, Baldwinsville, New York

“I refer to it as the event that blew away, one of the scariest moments of my life. I was working as the caterer for the reveal of Virgin Galactic’s Eve spacecraft, being built in a hangar out in the Mojave. Of course, we prepared for cold in December. During set up the day before, we had to cover our faces with masks or bandanas because it was so windy. Food and dust don't mix, so we had to take extra precautions to cover our equipment. We knew the wind was bad, we knew we may have to react to an alternate event scenario.

The day of the event came and despite strong winds, all proceeded as planned. After the outdoor reveal on the tarmac at the airport, guests proceeded to one main tent. Ancillary areas were set up as lounges, including inflatable tents and outdoor furniture groupings. The inflatables immediately started caving in to the strong winds that picked up during the day. Even during set up, we were being pushed around by the sides of these inflatables.

Once the event began, my catering team scrambled to accommodate the wind, moving bar locations since the glassware and bartenders couldn't hold up in the strong winds, or it was simply too cold for the outdoor bar locations. I remember my hands freezing as we were pouring celebratory champagne toasts for guests, and struggling to keep the champagne flutes from toppling over. Those inflatable tents started caving in under the pressure of the wind not too long after the event started, and were closed down to guests, but none were the wiser. Celebratory remarks were made. Governor Schwarzenegger was in attendance and of course Richard Branson. But then Mojave Desert sheriff authorities came to the event producers and said the wind readings were picking up, [approaching winds were] more than the tents were rated for. Local authorities made the call to evacuate guests and close down the entire party.

Guests filed back to the buses that brought them to the desert. We immediately started gathering what we could to break down buffets, bars, and close up shop in the kitchen. We had 100-plus catering staff we needed to get back on our shuttles back to L.A. Some staff were reluctant to board the buses because they thought they were too high-profile to sustain the winds on [the] highway. It was deemed safe to travel so we had no choice but to send them home despite massive break down that still needed to happen. I was consoling crying and fearful staff, some of whom had their belongings in those inflatable tents that had been red tagged [by] authorities. Everyone scrambled to clear out of the event space, and when the wind meter stopped recording the wind speed, authorities shut down and evacuated the entire site. The few of us still remaining on site were escorted to a mobile office trailer to wait out the worst of the passing winds. Power went out. Winds howled. The office creaked and moaned. We finally were allowed to leave site and leave quickly we did. As we drove away, we saw Branson waiting out the storm and viewing the destruction from his RV.

When a few key staff returned to site the next morning, we couldn't believe our eyes: The main tent was completely mangled. It lifted up in the wind, twisted, and came back down on itself. Plasma TVs were on the ground, lighting fixtures dangled by their safety cords. Our buffets sat like still lifes: plates in place, food intact, though dusty. There was little that we could actually clean up since most of it was off-limits for safety reasons. Tons of equipment was lost by all of the vendors, but fortunately no lives. But how close it could have been if the sheriff didn't make a swift and sound judgment to evacuate when he did.”
Beth Norber, independent event professional, Los Angeles

“In 2012, we produced the Microsoft Store opening and Flo Rida concert in Orlando. Within a few hours of the doors opening, a flash tropical storm struck and sent the concert's sponsor 10- by 10-foot tents flying through the parking lot. In the midst of the storm, boundary structures and fencing went down and we swiftly evacuated staff and guests from the site and inside the safety of the Florida Mall. Shortly after the storm passed, we quickly began to reset the entire concert venue. With only a 45-minute delay, Flo Rida was able to take the stage and give his full performance, resulting in a successful concert and store opening.”
Brian Diamond, C.E.O. and co-founder, the Visionary Group, Los Angeles

“I was the co-executive producer for The Bachelor wedding for Jason and Molly Mesnick at the Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The ceremony was outdoors and televised in a two-hour special. We prepared all day under black skies, rain on and off throughout. We didn't have much of a backup plan, as an acceptable one really wasn't available. It rained lightly through the ceremony, a bit heavier right at the end. As for precautions, our main concern was trying to find even a 20-minute clearing in the forecast where we could pull the ceremony off without rain. Therefore, we all had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. And we bought every poncho and tarp within a 20-mile radius. We also had to dry all the guests’ seats prior to their being seated, and squeegee the aisle. I was seven months pregnant at the time and more concerned about the weather report than I was my impending delivery. It cleared up just long enough for a very quick ceremony, and the photos of the happy couple exiting the ceremony in the rain were stunning.”
Karri-Leigh Mastrangelo, reality TV producer, Los Angeles

“As a wedding planner in Southern California, for the most part, you can count on a gorgeous wedding day nearly any time of the year. Unfortunately, Mother Earth sometimes throws a curveball at you and you have to adapt. This year it poured rain on July 18, [a day when] no one ever expects rain. We had three weddings scheduled. The indoor wedding had a major leak in the roof of a 100-year-old industrial building. The roof was 30-plus feet above our heads. A scramble ensued to move tables and adjust the layout to keep the leak from ruining the wedding. We came up with a plan that worked and kept a bucket under the leak to avoid major slipping. Thankfully, no other leaks sprung (although we were completely terrified the entire night that the roof may collapse—the building, though very cool, isn't in the best shape for rainstorms) and the night continued into a perfectly magical wedding day.

Another one of our weddings was scheduled to be held at an old rustic barn with an outdoor ceremony and dinner reception. This one was particularly difficult because we had a bride who was completely heartbroken and wanted to wait until the last possible minute to move everything inside. Our lead coordinator had to manage a lot of personalities and wait until the last possible moment when they were forced to move everything into a ballroom because the rain was nonstop.

Our third wedding was planned for a beachside rooftop and had to be moved into a ballroom, also at the last minute, also with a heartbroken bride [and a couple with] very demanding family expectations. Needless to say, July 18 will go down in the record books. There has never been a day like it and there never will be again. We are lucky to have had the experience to help us grow.”
Brooke Avishay, owner and event producer, Orange Blossom Special Events, Los Angeles

Editor's note: Some of these comments were shared by readers on our social media networks. Join our discussions on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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