Wedding weather: You can’t predict it, but you can prepare

Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - Sarah Gillespie and Adam Johnson were wed on a very rainy morning in Washington last April. The Capitol Weather Gang has tips for choosing a wedding date that maximizes your chances for sunny skies and comfortable temperatures.

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When planning a wedding, you have control over the guest list, the reception location and nearly every other detail. The one thing you can’t control? The weather. It’s inherently chaotic, and no matter what anyone tells you, it can’t be predicted months in advance.

But if you’re determined to hold an outdoor ceremony or reception, the Capital Weather Gang offers this four-step plan:

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1. Decide what your ideal weather is, and identify the best dates and times

“Ideal” wedding weather is subjective, but most people seem to be looking for a day that’s dry and comfortably warm. Weather isn’t the only factor when choosing a wedding date — venue availability, guest travel plans and other details have to be taken into consideration.

Let’s assume your ideal weather means temperatures from 70-85 degrees. Find out when your wedding location averages temperatures in this range (or the range of your choice). Weather.com has a great tool for this: just plug-in your location and it provides data on average temperature and precipitation throughout the year. It also provides daily temperature records (i.e. the hottest and coldest it’s ever been on a given date), which will give you a sense of the full range of possible conditions.

In the Washington, D.C., area, typical dates when afternoon high temperatures average 70-85 degrees span from late April to early June, and from early September to early October. It’s no wonder these are some of the more popular months for weddings. The wild card during these periods is precipitation, which is why Step 2 of our plan (below) is so important. If you want to eliminate the chance of rain, consider a destination wedding at a location that has distinct dry seasons (e.g. southern California and some tropical islands).

When choosing your date, also consider the time of day during which you plan to hold your outdoor events. If you’re planning an evening reception, temperatures will be falling and you may want to pick a day using low temperatures as the criteria instead of highs; if your ideal temperatures range from 70-85 degrees, that would mean a summer wedding might make more sense than one in the late spring or early fall, when it may turn cold at night.

2. Develop a back-up plan

There’s an old saying: “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” In other words, weather averages are no guaranteee. The date’s highs may average 75, but that doesn’t mean you won’t face a chilly 50 or a sweltering 95. For example, the average Washington high for Oct. 29 is 64 degrees, but this year that date saw snow and temperatures that topped out at just 42 degrees.

Unless you’re holding an outdoor wedding in a desert, you have to be prepared for the chance of rain. Determine how and where you’ll move your event if there’s precipitation or extreme temperatures. Discuss this back-up plan with caterers, florists, musicians and other key players ahead of time. When deciding whether or not to move your wedding into a climate-controlled environment, consider the comfort and health of your guests — especially the elderly, who may be especially sensitive to heat, cold and getting wet.

3. Don’t start checking the forecast until a week before your wedding

You might be able to get a general idea of what the day will be like a week ahead of time, but a detailed, reliable forecast probably won’t be available until a few days before the event.

The most challenging forecasts to deal with are those that include a 30 percent chance or so of thunderstorms. That’s because these storms are often widely scattered and develop unpredictably. In these situations, one site might get drenched, while another 10 miles away stays bone dry. Our advice: find the weather geek attending your wedding (there’s usually at least one) and give him or her radar duty. With radar information accessible on most most free weather apps, your helpful guest can warn you if a storm is bearing down.

4. Embrace whatever weather you get

Just because you can’t control the weather doesn’t mean it needs to be a source of stress. By understanding the range of weather possibilities for your wedding day and preparing for all of them, you can check “weather” off your to-do list and rejoice in your special day, rain or shine.

Jason Samenow is Chief Meteorologist for washingtonpost.com’s Capital Weather Gang blog. This article is an updated version of a wedding weather story he first published in 2009.

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