As a wedding planner who has been in the events industry for about a decade—with particular experience planning outdoor weddings in New England—Elizabeth Hall knows to always have a Plan B. But as climate change has made extreme weather both more prevalent and more erratic, “this year,” she says, “was the year of Plan C, D, and E.”
Weather impacting weddings isn’t a new phenomenon. Weather problems have consistently been a top cause of wedding insurance claims, according to Travelers; in 2022, weather was the cause for 16% of claims, alongside illness and injury (15%) and vendor issues (31%). But 2023 was a year of extremes, from record heat waves during the hottest summer on Earth since global records began to devastating flooding to historic wildfires that spread smoke across continents.
Global warming makes extreme weather like heat waves and storms not only more intense and frequent, but also more unpredictable. That unpredictability can be devastating, leaving people little time to evacuate or prepare. For the wedding industry, it adds another complication: Couples often have to lock down their venue as much as 12 months in advance. That leaves little wiggle room to adjust to sudden heat waves or intense storms—or means a couple could lose all their costly deposits if they need to cancel.
A shifting wedding season
June has traditionally been the most popular month to get married, but as summers get increasingly hotter, Emily Forrest, a wedding and registry expert at Zola, says there has been a shift toward fall weddings. “Coming off the hottest summer on record, it would not be surprising to see this shift solidify for many future generations,” she says. “We also know that couples want to get married outside, and that they, of course, do worry about the weather.”
According to Zola’s 2023 trends report, in which 4,000 couples getting married in 2023 talked about their plans, 81% of 2023 venue inquiries on Zola’s platform were for completely outdoor or covered outdoor venues. “We also know that 50% of engaged couples are concerned about how the weather will impact their day,” she adds, “and truthfully, speaking as a bride who got married during an incredible rainstorm, I imagine that number is much higher than the percentage shows.”
Following June, September and October are also popular wedding months, particularly in the Northeast, because they’ve historically had temperatures in the 60s and 70s and a low chance of rain. But not in 2023. This September was the seventh warmest September in 129 years, bringing temperatures in the 90s to cities across New England; Boston saw its longest streak of over-80 degree days after Labor Day. New York City residents saw rain for seven weekends in a row, stretching into mid-October, part of a weather pattern linked to global warming.
Even if that extreme weather doesn’t happen on someone’s wedding day, its effects linger. “We’ve had concerns from couples whose wedding venues are impacted,” says Hall. For example, the Central Park Zoo was hit by flooding in late September, and Hall has already heard concerns from couples who booked the venue next year. That event proved that the location is vulnerable. After July storms that caused some of the worst flooding Vermont has seen in 100 years, some venues were forced to close (and cancel weddings) as they made repairs, prompting couples to be concerned about whether their future wedding would also be affected. Three months after those storms, in peak wedding season, the state was still recovering.
While Hall’s Plan B may have once been as simple as making sure a couple has a tent in case of light rain or umbrellas for guests, this year necessitated bigger changes. “Your rain plan wasn’t necessarily good enough this year,” Hall says. “It wasn’t just like, there’s rain outside so pull the sides down on the tent. It was like, we can’t be in a tent because the winds are too high.”
Those adjustments can also come with unexpected costs; instead of just renting a tent, couples may need to book an entire new venue, or pay their vendors to be available early. One change that Hall saw this year, especially for weddings that extended over an entire weekend, was that outdoor portions, like the ceremony, were shifted to avoid bad forecasts. (In New York City, this meant moving them to Friday, given the seven straight weekends of rain.) That adjustment affects every vendor, from makeup and photography to officiants and flowers, some of whom may end up charging more for the last-minute change. This sort of alteration may not be feasible for every couple or venue; Hall works in the luxury wedding space, where vendors don’t often book multiple weddings in one weekend, but others may not have the flexibility to shift schedules around.
Wedding have already gotten much more expensive, especially as inflation rises. In 1990, the average wedding cost around $15,000. For couples getting married in 2023, weddings totaled around $29,000, according to Zola, which was up slightly from $28,000 in 2022—though that number varies by location and size (a 200-guest wedding averages $40,000 and up, for example). Though prices dipped slightly in 2020 when the pandemic paused the industry, the fallout of COVID-19 meant that some vendors raised their prices in the following years to accommodate things like cancellations, supply chain issues, and short staff.
Though it’s not clear just how climate change will affect wedding costs, it’s easy to see that there could be a correlation. If a heat wave or other unpredictable weather event decimates flower crops, florists may need to charge more for their arrangements. The same could happen for food, and climate change is even expected to cause wine prices to soar.
Couples and vendors alike may try to plan for unpredictable weather going forward. That may mean looking for venues with both outdoor and indoor space, so ceremonies can move inside if need be. (These venues may also be larger, and thus more expensive.) “We used to really specialize in outdoor spaces,” Hall says. “Now there is a checkbox on the pro list for an all-indoor venue that really can’t be impacted by the weather.”
An uncertainty future
While some vendors may have made accommodations during extreme weather this year, they may eventually adjust their overall pricing to build in protections against this unpredictability, Hall says. But whether couples move away from booking certain venues, locations, or times of year isn’t clear just yet. “The wedding industry works so early,” she says. “We already are fully booked for September , and [those weddings] were booked before they saw the weather this September.”
Vendors across the industry and couples in the throes of wedding planning are hoping, Hall adds, that 2023 was a one-off, an outlier of a year in terms of extreme weather. But we know that climate change overall is expected to worsen, even if every year has its own variability. Still, the wedding industry will go on. “Regardless of the weather, people always want to get married and have weddings,” Forrest says.
As to how the industry will adjust, though, in terms of plans, months, venues, and pricing, that depends on what happens next. “If we see back-to-back years that were like this year, you’re definitely going to see changes,” says Hall. “If next year is a bit better, though, you may see, understandably, a reluctance to adjust for climate change. And I think the wedding industry and couples alike don’t necessarily want to make that adjustment.”