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Extreme Weather Events: Outdoor concerts will be a history soon

Extreme weather threatens outdoor events worldwide. Concerts and festivals faced 29 incidents in 2023, with two deaths. Heat, hail.

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Is extreme heat a real threat to music concerts and other crowd events?

Extreme weather threatens outdoor events worldwide. Concerts and festivals faced 29 incidents in 2023, with two deaths. Heat, hail, and storms disrupted performances. Climate change, nearing a 1.5°C limit, increases risks, with temperatures predicted to climb even higher in 2024.

Outdoor music events have always been subject to the whims of weather. However, the increasing frequency of extreme heat and cold events is adding a new layer of complexity to the planning and execution of these events.

In the past, event organizers could rely on historical weather patterns to guide their planning. But with climate change, these patterns are becoming less predictable. Extreme heat waves or sudden cold snaps can occur without warning, leaving organizers scrambling to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved.

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Extreme temperatures threaten live music. Photo Credit: Rawpixel

Festivals have long been tied to local seasons, but modern ones often happen in outdoor settings. These locations contribute to the unique festival experience and can boost local economies. However, weather, particularly extreme events like floods and fires, has become a major challenge for festivals.

Climate change impacts on festivals around the world have been studied mainly in terms of organizers trying to reduce carbon emissions. However, there's been less focus on how climate change affects the events themselves.

A recent study found a startling lack of research on this topic. Extreme weather incidents at festivals have increased dramatically since 2019, with bushfires and floods causing cancellations and relocations.

Climate change disrupts event planning

The impact of these temperature extremes on live music shows is multifaceted. For performers, extreme heat can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion, affecting their ability to perform at their best. On the other hand, extreme cold can make it difficult for musicians to play their instruments and can even cause damage to the instruments themselves.

Taylor Swift’s Rio concert hit 59°C, leading to a fan's death. Outdoor activities like scouting also impacted. Experts urge better preparation, shaded areas, and cooling stations. Concert safety needs priority like terrorism concerns.

Audience awareness and artist education are crucial. Weather monitoring and transparent communication are vital. Contingency plans and mitigation are essential. Climate change poses an existential threat to the event industry.

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Popfestival of the Netherlands was the hottest one in history, with temperatures topping 35 degrees. Photo Credit: Rene Passet/Flickr

“There was not a single month during 2023 where we did not have multiple incidents like that,” said Milad Haghani, a senior lecturer specialising in public safety and disasters at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW). “It was a bad year for the music industry.”

Kevin Kloesel, an event safety meteorologist for the University of Oklahoma, urged organisers to make weather a priority and give it the same weight as other risk factors like terrorist attacks and active shooter situations.  

"It turns out that weather is going to be the more likely threat daily than any of those other risks," he told Context. Organisers should also hire professional meteorologists who can monitor threats and help take difficult decisions - such as calling off a show to prevent injuries and deaths, he said.

"We need a meteorologist who can advise the event staff on cooling stations, the amount of water to have available, (and) where are the most likely places in your venue that will get excessively hot," Kloesel added.  

Extreme temperatures challenge live music shows

The impact of these temperature extremes on live music shows is multifaceted. For performers, extreme heat can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion, affecting their ability to perform at their best. On the other hand, extreme cold can make it difficult for musicians to play their instruments and can even cause damage to the instruments themselves.

For attendees, extreme temperatures can turn what should be an enjoyable experience into a struggle for comfort and safety. Heatstroke, hypothermia, and other weather-related health issues can pose serious risks. Furthermore, these conditions can lead to lower attendance, affecting the financial success of these events.

Event organizers are now being forced to come up with innovative solutions to combat this issue. Some are investing in large-scale cooling and heating systems to help regulate temperatures at their events. Others are scheduling their events during times of the year when extreme temperatures are less likely.

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Popfestival of the Netherlands was the hottest one in history, with temperatures topping 35 degrees. Photo Credit: Rene Passet/Flickr

However, these solutions come with their own set of challenges. Large-scale temperature regulation systems can be expensive and energy-intensive, contributing to the very problem they are trying to solve. And while rescheduling events might avoid extreme temperatures, it could lead to conflicts with other events or inconvenience for attendees.

In the face of these challenges, the live music industry is showing resilience and adaptability. Artists, organizers, and fans alike are coming together to find solutions that ensure the show can go on, no matter the weather.

As we move forward, it’s clear that the issue of extreme temperatures will continue to be a major consideration for the live music industry. But with continued innovation and adaptability, the industry is well-equipped to face this challenge head-on.

Planning challenges and future uncertainties

With rising temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and an increase in extreme events. Southern and eastern regions face more fire risks and droughts, while the north is at higher risk of floods. Urban areas may experience flash floods from heavy rainfall. Festivals in coastal regions are vulnerable to sea-level rise.

Planning for festivals in the face of climate change is complex. Festival sites, often in greenfield areas, might be vulnerable to flooding, but choosing sites with lower risks is challenging. Interactions between extreme events can create unpredictable outcomes. The warming trend increases the likelihood of extreme events beyond historical experience.

The study also highlighted potential flow-on effects. Festival cancellations or relocations can harm local economies, impact tourism, and disrupt the live music ecosystem. Australia's geographic size and distance from major touring circuits make festivals crucial for artists and the local music industry.

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