Guest column: Five steps to prepare your event for severe weather

Transparent umbrella under rain
Photo courtesy of Getty

The quickly changing climate affects us all, and planning for severe weather is becoming a basic requirement for the success of any business. Approximately $630 billion is lost to severe weather in the US every year. Just take a look at Hurricane Ida.

When Hurricane Ida made landfall on the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, many were surprised when impacts extended to Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. As Ida moved inland, the system longer produced wind impacts, but it soon merged with a frontal boundary that led to heavy rains and tornadoes from Virginia to New York. The first-ever flash flood emergency warnings were issued for northeastern New Jersey and New York City, and storm impacts were felt across 12 states.

Planning with a major storm in mind (no matter what the forecast says) will help you keep your attendees safe and reduce the risk of major financial losses. The five categories below form the core steps we, as a professional weather service, recommend meeting planners take to prepare for severe weather.

Know your location

Familiarity with a region or state may make you think you know what weather to expect at different times of the year, but with climate change, the reality of a weather forecast is quickly changing from these expectations. In Oregon this June, most people expected typical summer days of 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit but were shocked to experience record-breaking temperatures of 112 degrees. Similarly, in February no one anticipated a catastrophic Arctic blast hitting Texas, when temperatures are typically quite mild.

Knowing what to expect in the specific location and estimated date of your event is key for building contingency plans around severe weather. Obtaining a long-range weather forecast can help you do this. Remember, accurate information will impact the success of your planning, so seek advice from reliable weather intelligence services who can provide a forecast that is customized to the needs of your business.

Choose the right site

Event professionals know that not having a Plan B, C, or Z is a surefire path to failure. This goes for the weather as well; it can never be counted on to stick to Plan A. Let’s say your outdoor event has balmy sun and no rain, and it can be set up on the grounds connected to a large conference center. What happens if high-speed winds arise, and vendor tents are not secure in the gale? These are the kinds of scenarios that need foresight. Here are some additional questions to ask:

– Does your venue have capacity to move the event inside?

– Is your site still accessible to clients and consumers if there is partial flooding in the area?

– Would you need to arrange transportation transfers for clients to attend the site in bad weather, or return home? Can your venue provide generator power should a storm come through and disrupt the power supply?

– Who are your vendors? Would they be self-sufficient in preparing for bad weather, or would they need emergency guidance?

Keep in mind that if you are planning an outdoor event and there is a severe weather warning, you may need to relocate to an alternate venue. Have communication lined up with that venue just in case.

The central location for an event may be the first consideration, but many events utilize several critical sites including hotels, social settings, and tourist activities. These sites may be spread across a city or metro area and need to be considered when planning for severe weather. Your chosen venue will also have its own service providers who may be located farther away and impacted by a storm in their region. Forming a strong relationship with your venue host and maintaining good communication with them will act in your favor if an emergency plan needs to be arranged at short notice.

Create a full facilities plan

In the event of severe weather, people seek shelter. You may think this only applies to storms, but your guests will need shelter from the heat as much as the rain. If you’re planning an outdoor event, you may consider building temporary structures within the grounds, such as large tents. Tents form a flexible and reliable solution for an outdoor space, but they do have wind speed thresholds. High wind speeds can pull up and knock over large tents, making them a hazard in certain weather. These structures need to be secure for the safety and security of all persons onsite. Briefing a crew on forecasted weather, be it lightning, wind, or rain, will factor into the installation and setup of any temporary structures, so having this information on hand is vital.

Pre-empt travel issues

Monitoring where critical speakers and event VIPs are traveling from will help you prepare for a no-show. Severe weather may not be on the forecast for your event location, but it may impact your key conference speakers, making it impossible for them to fly out to your event. Make sure you have a Plan B should a critical member of your event program be suddenly unavailable. Ask yourself: Is it best to remove the event from the agenda; can you arrange for that person to join remotely (and would they be able to); should you reshuffle your schedule; or do you have a backup speaker? Having a contingency plan is key, but being able to enact it in a timely manner could save your program and attendee satisfaction. Having access to accurate weather intelligence, in advance of your event and even before your speakers do, may give you the time you need to enact your Plan B.

Communicate with attendees

Be sure to set up a communication line with guests, speakers, and vendors in advance of and during your event. A weather forecast in your pre-event email communication may help guests plan for their visit. Your mobile event app can be used to keep guests informed of severe weather alerts. Should weather change unexpectedly, organizers can make announcements in advance of speaker sessions when attendance is full. It’s important to also communicate with attendees when they’re not with you in person. For this, having each person’s mobile number on file will ensure that all people in your care are contacted.

Knowledge is power. If you know what to expect, then you can prepare for any foreseeable weather disruption to your event. Access to information in advance will help you set up and exercise your contingency plans as needed. These five steps are just the beginning but will set you on a path of preparation that could save your event in unexpected circumstances.


Lindsey Falconer is a senior marketing manager with StormGeo, a global leader in weather intelligence software and decision support services. She has 10+ years’ experience planning conferences and events.

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