Mardi Gras vs. the weather

After soakings and postponed parades, the Krewe of Muses "invested in 668 clear ponchos for members, just in case we are struck again," said Muses officer Virginia Saussy Bairnsfather. Mardi Gras krewes often find that the weather god is the one who actually rules over the Carnival season. And history shows that weather can range from icy sleet to sunny heat.

"My worst memory is getting up one Mardi Gras about five years ago," said Fred Lay of Kenner. "It was raining so hard that as I was driving to Chateau Country Club, where we congregate, I couldn't even see where I was going."

But he never once thought of turning around and going back to bed. "It wasn't cold. It was just raining," recalled Lay, an Omni Bank executive who rides in Argus with his wife, Claudette, a teacher at St. Catherine of Siena. "We got there, and the parade was delayed about an hour. It drizzled from the time we rode until we finished, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been."

Lay said riders are more concerned about the effect of rain on their throws than on how it impacts the crowds. "There are always people on the streets, yelling for throws. But for the rider, it's not much fun when your throws are sopping wet and you've got to dig through water to get to them."

In addition to this year's investment in ponchos, Muses' Bairnsfather and other krewe members keep long underwear on hand during their parade.

"The second year of Muses, as we left our pre-party to get on the buses, it was sunny and warming up. By the time we arrived to load onto floats at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas, it was drizzling," said Bairnsfather, a New Orleans resident and Mignon Faget executive. "When we rolled, the temperature had dropped to a brutal 38 and it was raining.

Then the NOPD lead vehicle broke down in front of Gallier Hall for 30 minutes it was pouring. It was only from seeing the video later that we could see how hard it was raining. Our Muses float was not covered, and we all suddenly realized how useful those wigs are in a cold rain."

One Proteus official said, "A few years ago, we pulled out into a drizzle, and we thought we would be all right for the 90 minutes or so to parade. That turned out not to be true. It's not much fun when you are sitting on St. Charles Avenue and it's raining and cold. You question whether you've made the right decision to roll. You want to do it for your royalty, for the king, because this is their night, but on the other hand, when you're taking your members out in sloppy conditions, there is the risk of people getting hurt."

He rides in full costume atop a horse at the front of the parade. "Riding on a horse in bad weather makes it worse than when you're on a float, where you may have some cover," he said. "On the horse, there is no reprieve from the elements. You're fully exposed. You're going to get drenched, and there is nothing you can do about it."

To roll or not to roll?

Economics can play an important part in the decision to parade in bad weather. Some krewes, for instance, share floats. If floatmakers believe their designs will be ruined by a bad rain, they suggest that the next krewe might appreciate a cancellation from the first organization's unfortunate day of rainy weather. But bands and marching groups may not be able to make it on the krewe's rescheduled parade day. And if the krewe doesn't parade it still pays for a portion of fees promised to those groups, plus the cost of permits, security, horses, and so on.

"Last year, we did not ride at all," the Proteus officer said referring to the driving rain the day of the parade.

New Orleans Police Department's Capt. Marlon De- Fillo said the decision to parade in Orleans Parish "in a moderate downpour" is up to the krewe captain and officials. "They receive our input, but in most cases, it's ultimately their decision. And since so many of these people have invested an exorbitant amount of money in their parade, that's a very hard decision to make."

Law enforcement only makes the decision for the krewe if there are high winds, hail and lightning, said DeFillo. "When the public safety of the krewe members or the people on the street comes into question, then the police need to make the decision for the krewe to postpone or cancel its parade."

Lay, Bairnsfather and the Proteus official say theyand their fellow riders keep a close
watch on the weather reports for a week to 10 days before their parade day.

"Hopefully, it's going to be beautiful when we parade on Mardi Gras," said Lay. "If it's not, we figure out how we're going to keep our throws dry. With us, there is no other day to parade.

"Hey, when you're riding, it's like you're a rock star for the night," said Bairnsfather. "You feel like everyone's calling to you and you alone. We've got 668 queens in Muses, and everyone gets the same wild experience, no matter the weather."