A Weather-Wise Wedding
You Can't Guarantee Perfect Conditions for Your Big Day. Here's What You Can Do.

Monday, February 16, 2009 12:00 AM

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

So how should you plan for the weather, especially if you want to hold a ceremony or reception outside? To help you out, the Capital Weather Gang offers this five-step plan for a stress-free outdoor wedding:

1. Decide What Your Ideal Weather Is and Identify Windows of Opportunity

While "ideal" wedding weather is subjective, most people seem to be looking for a day that's dry and comfortably warm, but not hot. Let's assume that 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, the windows of opportunity when afternoon high temperatures average 70-85 degrees are 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 3 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) or is in the desert.

2. Select a Date That Provides the Best Chance of Realizing Ideal Weather

Weather isn't the only factor when choosing a date -- venue availability, guest travel plans and other details have to be taken into consideration. But don't let the date slip too far outside the windows of opportunity you identified in Step 1 if you want good odds on cooperative weather.

When choosing your date, also consider the time of day during which you plan to hold your outdoor event(s). If you're planning an outdoor reception at night, temperatures will be falling. So that might mean you want to pick your date using low temperatures as the criteria instead of highs. And if your ideal temperatures range from 70-85 degrees, that would mean a summer wedding (in D.C.'s climate) makes more sense than one in the late spring or early fall when it may become cold -- that is, if you can stand the humidity.

The Capital Weather Gang occasionally develops customized weather and climate outlooks for local couples getting married in the region and publishes them on the blog. For example, see The Bind by the Bay. If you're interested in a customized outlook for your big day, contact the Capital Weather Gang at weathergang@washingtonpost.com.

3. Develop a Bad Weather Back-up Plan

There's an old saying: "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." In other words, don't let what the average conditions at a location fool you into thinking those conditions are guaranteed. The date's highs may average 75, but that doesn't mean you won't face a chilly 50 or a sweltering 95. And unless you're holding an outdoor wedding at a place where it virtually never rains (D.C. isn't one of them), you have to be prepared.

Determine how and where you'll move your event if there's rain 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.

4. Don't Start Checking the Forecast Until a Week Before Your Wedding

As the wedding draws closer, you're going to want to know whether your outdoor setting is safe or whether you need to resort to your bad-weather plan. Unfortunately, reliable forecasts are not available very far in advance. 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 plan for 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 place might get drenched, while another 10 miles away stays bone dry. The only way to plan for these types of storms is to keep an eye on radar. 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 PDAs, your helpful guest can warn you if a storm is bearing down.

5. Embrace and Enjoy Whatever Weather Your Wedding Day Brings You

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 right off your 500 item to-do list and then rejoice in your special day, rain or shine.

Jason Samenow is Chief Meteorologist for washingtonpost.com's Capital Weather Gang blog.

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