Hoping For The Best, Planning For The Worst: Live In An Era Of Wild Weather

From the afternoon of March 31 into the early evening of April 1, the National Weather Service confirmed 132 tornadoes touched down in a band stretching from eastern Texas well into the Northeast.

These megastorms are occurring all too frequently. Indeed, this two-day outbreak followed directly on the heels of a four-day, 31-tornado outbreak across the South.

The latter outbreak was caused by an extratropical cyclone in Nebraska. Without getting too far into the meteorological weeds, that’s a sort-of pseudo-hurricane. In Nebraska. One twister it spawned touched down in Delaware, the strongest tornado in the state since at least 1950. The same storm dumped feet of snow in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

This weather is weird. It is not normal. And, yes, scientists concur with near unanimity, it is a function of climate change caused by man.

There was, as there almost always is, a connection between the big headline-grabbing story and the live performance industry, underscoring that far from being frivolous or an extravagance, culture and its in-person performance is a critical component of society and what it means to be human and is not and cannot be divorced from it.

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TO THE EXTREME: Accelerating climate change and increasingly dangerous weather presents mounting challenges across the live industry. (Photo by Da Kuk / Getty Images)

In Belvidere, Illinois,  one man was killed and more than three dozen were injured during a March 31 Morbid Angel concert when a tornado caused the partial collapse of the Apollo Theater’s roof. More than 280 people were inside the venue. 

The Apollo collapse is an acute and visceral reminder of the simple fact that climate change and its effects are not problems we’ll have to face eventually. Someday, sure, rising sea levels may wash away shoreline amphitheaters. One day, yes, perhaps, Phoenix or Los Angeles will become uninhabitable due to heat and the Sun Belt will empty, causing a population boom in Bozeman or Boise. Those things are possible and horrifying.

Are we heading towards a horrific apocalyptic sci-fi hellscape? Perhaps so. But there’s plenty of danger we’ve already wrought, as Belvidere shows.

The irony is that as weather becomes seemingly more unpredictable, it’s become more forecastable. Meteorological modeling software has become more reliable. Orbiting satellites and earthbound radar are more numerous and more advanced. Thus, weather forecasts are more accurate, even as the weather being forecast is more difficult to comprehend. 

Festival organizers and tour managers, in particular, are always watching the weather, relying on boutique, bespoke services from companies like DTN and its WeatherOps Live Event Services that provide time-sensitive, highly-local forecasts faster and more accurately than would have been possible even a decade ago. 

Viciously unpredictable tornadoes notwithstanding, adverse weather is easier to prepare for than it ever has been, even as weather is more adverse than it ever has been. The first day of the emo-laden When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas in October was canceled ahead of 60 to 70 mile per hour winds. Organizers took the revenue hit from refunds, but shrewd agents and artists were able to re-book shows for the day at indoor venues in the meantime.

And, of course, the monetary losses were no doubt covered by insurance. The standard practice for decades was for the promoters’ insurance to cover guarantees if weather forced a cancellation, but the onus is increasingly on the artists to insure themselves, Higginbotham Insurance’s Paul Bassman explained to Pollstar in March.

On the venue side, underwriters are asking for ever higher premiums, particularly in areas where catastrophic weather is becoming more common. Total-loss events — typically hurricanes or wildfires — call for more sharing of risk, says Cameron Smith, senior vice president at insurance brokerage HUB International. 

Property insurance premium increases outpaced even the last year’s record-setting inflation. Underwriters were tougher than ever before on insurance-to-value calculations in a general sense and even stricter in Florida and California due to the risk of catastrophic loss from climate-change-driven meteorological disasters. Smith said underwriters are lessening the capacity of their limit. In other words, they are wary of insuring too much in places where every year brings a new type of weather-driven disaster.

The bottom line is just that. A 2019 study from Morgan Stanley said climate change cost the North American economy $415 billion between 2015 and 2018. Heat waves alone have cost the global economy more than $16 trillion in the last 30 years, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. And the impacts are only going to be exacerbated as temperatures continue to rise and the human population grows and becomes increasingly urban. 

The good news is that there is a broad consensus among climate scientists that humanity can hold temperatures below the 2 to 3 degrees Celsius increase most consider planet-melting and that major industrialized countries agreeing on emissions targets will have the desired effect. Global emissions will likely peak in the next few years and then start declining, which should go a long way toward, if not reversing climate changes effects, stabilizing them and making them more predictable in the long-run.

In the short term, there will be wild swings and catastrophes. There will still be washed-out festivals and windswept emos (and not just with their bangs). There will be tragedies but through the efforts of those profiled elsewhere in this issue, the show — and humanity — will go on and what was once abnormal will be the new normal. But at least it will be foreseeable.