Rain, Drain and Mud Stains


It is possible to remain happy if your event experiences downpour. But it requires mindful planning.



With the rainy weather being a predominant fixture lately in New England, what should you do if your planned outdoor event gets hit with scattered showers or worse? Most would advise you to have a Plan B – move it inside. But sometimes that’s not always a feasible solution.

Almost a decade ago, I graduated from a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. For the past 200 years, tradition dictated that the grand glass doors of an iconic building on campus open only twice a year – for incoming freshmen to pass through those doors at the signing in ceremony and for triumphant seniors to receive their diplomas at graduation where they stepped out of the limestone building and entered adulthood. But apparently, it had never rained on either of those days in the past 200 years and so there was no Plan B—at all. We sat in torrential downpour as the staff and administration pretended everything was normal while they gave us life advice on how to succeed in the world. Needless to say, parents and guests were not amused and the President of the college dealt with the blowback for years. Many had suggested that the situation could have been prevented and tradition maintained had the college set up waterproof tents. But waterproof tents alone aren’t the sole solution.

Venues often assure clients that their event will be fine under a waterproof tent, but our experience has shown otherwise. Remarkably, these types of situations happen more than they should and we encounter them without fail a handful of times each year when the promise of sunshine inspires outdoor events.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you hold your event outside under a waterproof tent:

Spaces that allow for necessary drainage

  • Ensure that your tent is set up on a flat space that allows for necessary drainage. Recently we were providing audio services at a tented event in rainy conditions. While the tent sat on flat space, there was virtually no where the water could drain so it rose creating ankle-deep mud puddles for the guests. We helped lay plywood for attendees to navigate through but the rain was too quick and the planks sank into the mud.

Slight slopes will wreak havoc

  • At another tented event, which was again constructed on a flat space, not only lacked the necessary drainage capabilities but it was adjacent to a construction site located on a slight slope. Once it started pouring, all the rainwater from site washed down onto the tent location creating a giant mess. Assess the space surrounding your tent to locate where even the most minor of barriers may be hiding. Check for slight slopes and even extended bumps (including sidewalks) to see where water could possibly be stopped from draining.  If you identify anything, best to avoid placing your tent there.

You probably don’t want a scene like this at your annual outdoor event.

Invest in an “battery backup” sump pump

  • Inquire if the venue already has a sump pump, and if not, make the investment. Don’t just hope for the best or that “their guys” will know what to do. For under $400 at your local hardware store, you can avoid having your event flooded and muddied! Ensure you buy one that doesn’t require a/c power, which may not be readily available and instead opt for one that you can operate with a battery (often times these batteries are sold separately and are less than $200). Just make sure you purchase the battery so that you can actually use it. Sump pumps can pump thousands of gallons for several hours and save you a million headaches. This is particularly important if your tent is place near a slope or where there’s no pathway for rainwater to drain.

It’s entirely possible to have a great time under inclement weather if you plan, prepare and take action. For all the examples we’ve witnessed of event planners and venues handling rain poorly, we also know plenty of successful events that went off without a hitch.