Every detail of an outdoor wedding can be planned to perfection for months, then a sudden downpour can make a spectacular day turn into a scramble.
We can’t control the weather, but understanding how it works can boost your odds of encountering sunshine — or at least cut down on some stress as the big date approaches.
It’s important to have realistic expectations about what we can tell from a weather forecast, and when.
The science of weather forecasting is getting better, but there’s a natural limit to just how far out into the future we can see any useful details.
The farther out you look, the harder it is to pin things down.
Most meteorologists have received a call that goes something like this:
“Hi! We’ve got a wedding planned a few weekends from now, and I’m hoping you can tell me if there will be any rain or big storms?”
Any meteorologist would love to be able to put the worried wedding party at ease, but it’s not realistic to give a really detailed weather forecast beyond a week to 10 days in the future.
Often enough, it’s tough to be sure about the track of a storm that’s just a few days away.
And when it comes to our routine summertime thunderstorms, we might not know when and where they’ll pop up until one is actually on the radar screen.
Yes, many apps and websites now offer daily forecasts that go weeks into the future, but it’s a big stretch to say that they can be just as specific as tomorrow’s forecast.
There’s certainly an appeal to glancing at that long-range forecast once your important date is in range, but don’t get your hopes too high — or totally dashed — by those forecasts that don’t have a lot of skill or human involvement.
In the range of one to three weeks in the future, meteorologists just have some very general ideas about whether things will be warmer, colder, wetter or drier than average.
But even if you know with a great deal of confidence that a spell of wet weather is coming to Virginia in a week or two, that still won’t tell you whether it will be raining at some fixed location, date and time.
Then there are all of the other important factors: How cloudy? How windy? How humid?
Beyond two or three weeks out, we can really just look at how that certain time of year usually behaves based on our weather history.
Dry months aren’t always that dry
As the saying goes in meteorology: Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get.
Obviously, an outdoor wedding in July is probably going to be humid with a chance for an afternoon storm; the spring and fall months have a better chance of delivering comfortable and pleasant conditions.
But spring can also whip up violent storms; dayslong downpours can move in during the fall.
Unfortunately for long-term wedding planning, Richmond is in a part of the world where our rain falls pretty evenly throughout the year.
There isn’t a clearly defined and predictable rainy season or dry season like you’d find in California.
Based on the past few decades, Richmond’s wettest month is August with average rainfall of 4.66 inches, followed by July with 4.51 inches.
The driest month is February with 2.76 inches of precipitation on average.
That’s not a huge separation between our wettest and driest month, and there are big year-to-year fluctuations around those averages.
We’ve had years when September or October was the rainiest month because of hurricanes and tropical storms, and other years when July and August were unusually dry because of droughts and heat waves.
The summer months are often our wettest, but ironically, those months usually have the shortest duration of rainfall.
Basically, the warm season packs more precipitation into fewer hours, and the cool months are more likely to bring systems that make all-day showers.
June averages only 22 hours with measurable precipitation in Richmond — the fewest for any month of the year — while March averages the most at 44 hours.
Other popular outdoor wedding months such as April, May and October are in the middle of the pack, with 30 to 33 rainy hours on average.
Keep storm safety in mind
During the excitement and frenzy of a wedding day, make sure someone has a way to receive any watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service if thunderstorms are in the forecast.
Severe weather can happen during any month of the year — recall the tornado that hit Amelia County late on a Friday evening this past January — but most of our damaging storms strike between April and July during the afternoon and evening hours.
If you get word of a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch, there may not be an immediate threat for your location, but it’s very important to listen out for updates.
Watches are issued when ingredients are especially favorable for damaging storms within the next several hours.
A severe thunderstorm warning or tornado warning is even more urgent than a watch, and if you’re in the warned area, get to a safe shelter without delay.
A storm doesn’t even have to be severe to create deadly lightning, and that can come without warning.
Remember: The only safe place during a thunderstorm is inside a sturdy building and away from windows. A tent or open-air pavilion is not adequate shelter from lightning or severe wind gusts.
If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to a storm to be struck by lightning and it’s time for all of the guests to get inside and stay inside.
Don’t just wait for the rain to stop before heading back out — departing storms can still send lightning in your direction.
It might be unpleasant to imagine a storm slamming into your wedding, but a little bit of thinking ahead and planning can pay off if the weather deals a bad hand.