You know what I’m talking about. You’ve planned the beach trip for days. Took forever to organise between your friends or family, the kids are excited. Towel packed, sunscreen on, only to arrive to, overcast skies, and rain in the distance. But, no real harm done, you pack up and head home again.
For us, when organising outdoor events monitoring the forecast is vital. And harm CAN be done by ignoring the forecasts or taking risks…
Our canopies are rated to 60mph (with suitable measures in place to secure, the required measures for safety in winds up to 60mph are beyond ours and a majority of organisers capacity). Taking the measures required to make canopies safe as winds increase we only have the capacity to meet requirements up to 30mph.
Wind speeds (gusts) above 25mph can make conditions difficult, anything above 30mph make our outdoor operations too dangerous and risky for staff, traders and visitors.
When we talk about wind speeds we always monitor and talk about the ‘gusts’ - all limits specified by the gazebo specification and safety levels are in relation to the ‘gusts, not the base wind speed. The gusts are what cause damage and what should be monitored
The canopies we use can act like kites in high winds. With wind-speeds above 25mph we remove the canopy sides to reduce the risk of canopies lifting – this however causes traders problems in that they can’t keep their valuable stock on their tables, most traders aren’t equipped to deal with winds above 30mph.
Other things we have to take into consideration is the direction of the wind, the shelter at the site, the requirement to add additional anchoring with higher winds as guided by our canopies specification. The availability of suitable ground to add additional ground anchor pegs, the time and staff available to secure the additional anchor pegs and additional weights required also plays a part in decision making. The ground conditions in general are also a factor to consider – ie has the recent (or will forecasted) weather made the ground too wet - this is an important factor for grass pitches.
We don’t take risks in relation to safety – if the predicted weather indicates the day will be unsafe due to high wind gusts of 30mph or above, or if the ground is saturated with water we either cancel, postpone, or, where possible look for an alternative venue which wont always be an option, (a venue isn’t always available at such short notice, is outside our budget, or isn’t practical ie it’s upstairs, there’s no parking available to allow traders to unload, or there’s no time to notify visitors of the new venue). All the alternative options takes time to arrange, Time that isn’t always available at such short notice.
We’ve experienced an incredibly difficulty year in 2019 with a large number of events cancelled due to high winds, or, we should say, the prediction of high winds. The high winds forecasted didn’t always materialise.
We often receive messages to say ‘But it’s not windy’.
Possibly the forecast didn’t materialise as predicted, or possibly the cancellation was made due to high winds predicted during set up time in the morning before the rest of the world is awake, or for take down time. Our staff can’t build or dismantle stalls in dangerous conditions either.
We monitor the Gusts on Met Office, Windfinder, and XC Weather (NOT BBC Weather - it only reports gusts once they hit 40mph, we are interested in gusts from 30mph). (Take a look at it yourself and watch how unpredictible and changeable it can be at times.)
Organising an outdoor event takes time, and working with an uncontrollable element such as the weather makes everything more difficult. With a large number of traders starting preparations a few days before an event, preparing food, making childcare arrangements etc, and our staff organising the market equipment we need to make a decision on whether we can go ahead at least two days before the actual date.
We use the forecasts available to us at the time to make these decisions, the forecasts can change daily, and sometimes calm down before the market date, but if we have already made the decision to cancel and informed traders it's too late to reorganise at that stage.
We have also experienced events where the forecast was worse than predicted, causing late notice cancellation or an early end to a market day. This is less likely but it has happened in two occasions (over 9 years).
We can assure you that a decision to cancel or postpone a market is not taken lightly.
We take a financial hit when we cancel an event, our income is dependant on markets running, we know the traders that depend on the markets as a source of income take a financial hit also, visitors that have planned to visit are disappointed – but none of those things can justify taking a risk with public, trader or staff safety.
Certainly the forecast can also change after the decision is made. But, it’s inevitable that this will happen at times. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating….Why can’t those guys at the weather station do their job right?
In weather forecasting, it's never simple. Every forecast comes with a probability, or a level of uncertainty. Meteorologists forecasts will never be perfect. But huge accomplishments have been made in the science of weather forecasting over the last few decades, and if that continues, it may improve.
We often take for granted how often the weather report is actually correct, and instead only notice when it isn’t. But in the end, we are an outdoor market and the weather will always be an element we have to monitor and work with. We can only make decisions based on the information available to us at the time, this is one element we cannot control and that no one can 100% predict.
As yet we don’t have the power to control the weather or don’t have access to 100% accurate forecasts.