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Perfect Your Plan B: 5 Tips for a Weather-Safe Outdoor Wedding

Photographer: Collin Pierson Photography

Executing a flawless celebration hand-in-hand with Mother Nature requires Preparation — with a capital P. We spoke with Megan Estrada, Lead Event Planner and Owner of North Shore Weddings & Events, for advice and suggestions for safe-guarding your outdoor wedding so that you can check the weather report without fear.

Hire a planner who has experience with outdoor events

Ideally you want to build a team who has experienced — and learned to handle — all of the possible nature-related calamities that can impact your celebration. Estrada says, “In Chicago, and the Midwest and seasonal areas, it’s not just snow and sleet but also rain, flooding, lightning, heat, cold, and wind. Each should be planned for and dealt with in a different way.” Your planner should guide you in venue and décor team selection so that you have a solid roster of helpers who know how to take care of weather’s last-minute surprises.

Carefully choose a venue

When choosing a venue for your outdoor celebration, look for spots that either allow for a tent or have a secondary indoor space that can serve as a Plan B location.“If you’re using an indoor space as a backup, ensure that it can accommodate the number of guests you’ll be hosting and that its proximity allows for relocating guests there,” says Estrada. When utilizing an indoor location as a backup, your planner will need to assess additional décor and lighting needs for the space.

Decide between your backup options

Choose whether you prefer a tent or an indoor space as your main backup plan. Estrada says, “If you definitely want to be outdoors, proactively put up a tent, regardless of the forecast.” She recommends that it be set up about two to three days prior to your event.

A tent doesn’t just keep rain from guests, but also prevents the ground from getting soft or muddy. Tents also keep guests from overheating, as they reflect light and provide shade. Tent sides can be added to prevent wind, contain heat, or keep it cool.

Estrada adds, “You’ve put a lot of thought, effort, and expense into your décor, and you want to protect it. Plus, it’s hard to install lighting and hanging design elements without a structure above you. However, if you really want to avoid the look or expense of a tent, then you have to be completely okay with your Plan B indoor option.”

Plan for specific potential weather events

It’s important to work with your event planner to review your specific backup plans for each potential weather element and their likelihood. “You need to know how each plan works so that you’re able to accept it in the moment if needed,” says Estrada. “Plan all décor and logistical contingencies for each backup. It’s all about managing expectations for everyone involved — from the bride and groom to the venue, design team, and caterer.”  

Rain & Flooding: Adding a floor to your tent provides more than just comfort for guests in heels; it also provides a barrier between the event and the rain-soaked ground. Estrada also recommends other measures for preventing flooding: “Add rain gutters to shuttle rain away from your celebration. In addition, marquees (covered walkways) provide dry passage for guests and servers — how sad would it it be to have all of that beautiful food you carefully chose get drenched?!” Lastly, if heavy rain is predicted, setting up the tent up to three days in advance can help protect the area.

Cold & Heat: Extreme temperatures can ruin a celebration. Controlling the environment with a tent is an imperative step one. Next, bring in heaters for warmth or fans to cool things down. “If you’re working in a tented space, you have the opportunity to warm the entire space versus using patio heaters for more spot-specific warmth,” says Estrada. She has also gotten creative with double-duty items like programs that printed on heavy cardstock fans for guests to self cool and pashminas or pretty blankets for warmth.

Wind: The wind is often an uninvited guest at outdoor weddings — especially in places like Chicago. “Smart décor choices can minimize the impact of the wind on your celebration,” says Estrada. She advises avoiding high centerpieces and low-hanging designs. In addition, candles should be protected by glass and linens secured (for example, tie around the legs of cocktail hour highboy tables). Estrada has had to get creative with other, typically delicate, elements like place card displays, by pinning them into mossy frames or attaching them to heavy mirrors.

Lightning: For summer weddings, lightning is a problem that an all-wonderful tent won’t solve. When there’s lightning, musicians can’t play and guests must shelter. Having an indoor space available for potential evacuation is important. Estrada offers an example: “For a recent wedding I planned on Chicago’s Millennium Park rooftop, the venue’s evacuation spot was a parking garage. We held the nearby Harris Theater instead and used it for staging, as the bridal room, and for backup restrooms.”

When to transition to Plan B

When to make the call between your Plan A and Plan B is a tricky question, but Estrada is clear on one thing: “It’s all or nothing. It’s never a good idea to stall or try to do a half and half plan — for example, with the wedding outside then the reception indoors when rain is predicted later in the day.” She advises to make a decision and stick with it, so that you can get comfortable with the transition and also so that your team has time to create the perfect event. You want to avoid the mad rush of moving tables inside midway through a celebration with guests running for cover.

Often you will have a “decision time” assigned by your event planner, which takes into account how long it will take to potentially set up in a new location or add refinements to your tent to accommodate extreme heat or cold, for example. Your venue may also have requirements for when that decision needs to be made. Estrada says, “At a recent event at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we had to make the call by noon on the day of the event.”

The key to hosting a successful outdoor event that you’ll look back on with a smile is to accept — and even get excited for —  your backup plan. Either version of your event, if properly planned, will be gorgeous and amazing.

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