OCEAN CITY – Heavy rains and gusty winds could put a damper on some of the 41st Annual Sunfest celebration this weekend at the Ocean City Inlet.
Town officials and event organizers were preaching the message of “cautious optimism”, as the forecast from the National Weather Service projects that Saturday and Sunday could turn into a windy and rainy affair for Sunfest vendors, performers and spectators.
According to the NWS, wind gusts could exceed 40 mph beginning Saturday morning with a 50 percent chance of rain for the entirety of the day and night.
Sunday’s preliminary forecast seems to mirror Saturday’s, but according Frank Miller, special events coordinator for the town of Ocean City, the final day of Sunfest is his biggest worry.
“Sunday is our primary day of caution right now,” said Miller. “We are monitoring the weather patterns hourly, and we think we will be okay on Saturday. We had a really great turnout on Thursday morning for our ribbon cutting ceremony, so if people are concerned about the weather, we hope they will come early and enjoy Sunfest.”
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that the annual event, which had gotten the unfortunate nickname of “Stormfest” amongst locals several years ago after a string of rainy years, had been blessed with two straight years of good weather.
“It’s always about the weather with events like this,” said Meehan. “The forecast is definitely a concern, but we will do what we need to do to keep people in the know while we do what we do best, and that’s put on a great event.”
Miller stressed that if the weather does become a safety issue, the chain of communication is already in place, and ready to be triggered.
“We will move quickly and efficiently if it gets to that point,” said Miller. “We are in constant contact with the vendors, the public and the town. Safety is our biggest priority.”
Coincidentally, the threat of poor weather did slightly increase the numbers of vendors at Sunfest, which already boasts 250 and 180 artists, due to weather related changes in Virginia Beach, Va.
“Vendors who were scheduled to be at the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach have been calling up here and trying to get a spot since they had to cancel or move many of their events,” said Miller.
Nancy Cheech, president of the popular Neptune Festival, called the choice to modify the event so substantially including moving much of the festival, and its biggest draw, the Neptune Arts and Crafts show indoors to the city’s convention center, “completely heartbreaking,” and noted the obvious impact on that city’s local economy.
That weather induced adverse economic impact is a feeling that local business owners know all too well in Ocean City, but it’s also a concern for the visiting vendors in the tents at Sunfest, too.
Cape May, N.J. native Wayne Rowe and his wife own Rowe House Tile, which makes custom handmade tile address plaques. They took the Cape May Ferry to the region to avoid the traffic associated with this weekend’s Papal Visit in Philadelphia.
“The weather is a concern, but it’s not going to kill us if we lose a day or two,” he said. “We’ve done Springfest the past two years, but this is our first Sunfest, and we wanted to be here because it’s one of the best shows of its kind in the country. So, if we get two or three days out of it, rather than four, I think it will be worth it for sure.”
The big ticket musical performance for Saturday night at Sunfest features 90’s alt-rockers Gin Blossoms and The Spin Doctors. Miller stressed Sunfest’s improved entertainment pavilion was poised to withstand much more wind than has been forecasted.
“That pavilion can manage up to 85 mph wind gusts, and probably 65 mph sustained winds, and I don’t think we are going to get anywhere near that,” said Miller, “but if weather does become an issue on Saturday evening, we will handle it. Outdoor events like this are always a gamble, but we have to hold onto that sense of cautious optimism.”