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Will It Rain On My Wedding Day?

This is one of the most common questions that NIWA meteorologists get asked. Here they give their top tips to help you plan for the big day.

Everyone wants beautiful weather for their wedding. There’s even a luxury travel company that promises a perfect sunny day… for the measly sum of 100,000USD.

But with weddings already costing an arm and a leg, how can you give yourself the best chance for your ideal conditions without forking out years’ worth of salary?

"People’s weddings take a lot of planning - you want everything to be impeccable," says NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll.

Ben would know - he got married himself last year, after proposing to his now-wife Katey during a weather livestream. Ever dedicated to his craft, Ben decided to document his journey down the aisle and all the weather preparations that came before it.

Here’s what he learned.

1. Decide on your wedding weather vision

"Everyone has a different idea of what ‘ideal’ looks like. For me, it’s a sunny but mild 15 degrees, to keep sweat levels minimum! For others, it might be a scorching hot day for a bare foot beach ceremony, or a snow-capped winter wedding for those stunning photo backdrops.

"Once you’ve nailed that bit down, you can start looking at dates," said Ben.

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2. Using climatology to book your venue

Industry recommendations are to book your venue at least a year in advance, if not more.

"This makes things challenging, with weather being notoriously difficult to predict this far out. Your best bet is to turn to climatology. Climate data can help you make an informed decision about what date to choose, which means looking at what the weather is generally like at a particular location over a certain time period.

"For example, September in Auckland is the start of spring, so it’s unlikely to be too hot. That’s the month we chose," said Ben.

To get even more precise, when evaluating what weather could be like more than 12 months out, forecasters look at previous years with similar weather - also known as analogues. These tend to be the last one or two years, which are most likely to be similar to the next.

"However, climate is like your personality, with weather being your mood," Ben warns.

"In other words, there’s no guarantee that what is ‘normal’ will occur. We don’t have a crystal ball to give precise decisions, but we can look for clues such as whether it’s an El Niño or La Niña year, which tend to follow general patterns," said Ben.

3. Make a weather backup plan

When at the mercy of Mother Nature, you should have a Plan B.

Is there a way you can bring the wedding inside? Do you have alternative outfits? Can you supply your guests with umbrellas? Does your venue have aircon?

Make sure that whatever happens, the day can still go ahead as carefree as possible.

4. Look at dominant weather patterns

Six weeks out, prevailing weather patterns begin to take shape.

"At this point, we have a good idea about the broader picture - will low pressure dominate, or high? Is it likely to rain or not? High pressure means happy weather, low means lousy, so having more H’s on the map is a good thing," said Ben.

Six weeks ahead of Ben’s wedding, it was looking good, with high pressure promised.

5. Use drought forecasting

Luckily, NIWA had just the tool on hand to help Ben and Katie with their plans: the new drought forecasting dashboard.

A significant update on previous models, this high-resolution software uses machine learning to provide accurate forecasts of rain up to five weeks in advance.

Technology like this is helping everyone from farmers to fiancés better prepare for periods of drenching or drought.

6. Don’t forget about the wind

We get obsessed with the rain, but often forget about the wind (unless you live in Wellington…).

Depending on the strength, wind can either be a blessing or a curse. A nice breeze on a hot day can be refreshing, but anything above 40km/h and you’re going to need a lot of hairspray and bobby pins.

If the speed gets to more than 62km/h or more, then this is reaching gale-force territory, and guests’ hats may start flying.

7. Look for forecast consistency

With just 10 days to go, you can have more faith in the forecasts as they get more accurate. Checking multiple forecasts to look for consistency can give you a good idea of what your likely wedding weather will be.

For Ben and Katey’s big day, sun was promised. However, it wasn’t meant to be.

"New Zealand were in Covid lockdown, which meant the agonising decision to rearrange the whole wedding to the following February. Even more annoying, when the original day came, the sun was shining.

"We just had to hope that we’d be second time lucky," said Ben.

8. Adjust wedding layout to high-res forecast

A few days out, high resolution forecasting is at your fingertips. Now, you can get an hour-by-hour breakdown of what the weather could be like, including cloud cover, chance of rain, wind speeds and direction, humidity etc.

This information is invaluable to help with your planning of specifics for the day - can things go ahead as planned, or will you need to rely on that Plan B you cautiously prepared?

For Ben and Katey, their Plan B might have not been enough…

"With just a week until the wedding, we saw a tropical cyclone brewing towards New Caledonia. It’s safe to say, we were watching it very carefully. A week out, nothing is guaranteed. It could change course, so we kept our fingers crossed.

"But as the days went on, things began to get sketchy. We checked different weather models every six hours, hoping for the best. But it looked like it was going to make landfall in New Zealand right in time for the exchanging of the rings," said Ben.

However, with just a couple of days to go, the forecasts showed that while some places would be a washout, Auckland may escape the worst of it (for rain anyway, the wind was still definitely knocking on the door).

"Thanks NIWA’s supercomputers and high-resolution models, we were able to see the finer details about how the storm would play out. The heaviest rains were to the south, which was good news, but 100 km/h winds would be howling from the north. We knew we’d have to find a better position at the venue to hide from the worst of it.

"It also looked like things would start clearing up in the afternoon, so at least things would be on the up as the day went on!" said Ben.

9. Rain or shine, enjoy the day

The big day finally arrived - it was a whirlwind, in more ways than one.

"The winds were howling so much that the venue lost power. But we carried on valiantly. There was no way that it wasn’t going to happen. We were getting it done. And it was beautiful.

"After all, a cyclone on a meteorologist’s wedding day? It’s a story that almost writes itself," said Ben.

With 16,000 marriages and civil unions every year in Aotearoa, some are bound to fall on rainy days, despite everyone’s best efforts.

A little rain may even bring you luck, which is one of the most common wedding superstitions throughout the world.

"So our best advice is that rain or shine, roll with whatever hand you’re dealt, enjoy the day, and look forward to the rest of your lives together," said Ben.

10. Bonus tip - rope in a mate

Your wedding day will inevitably be really busy. When choosing your groomsmen and bridesmaids, why not consider putting someone in charge of the weather planning?

"A person looking at all the weather maps in the lead up, putting together a play by play for the day depending on what they show - this could be a great way to give you one less thing to worry about," said Ben.

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