Planners Scrambling as Bomb Cyclone Hits East Coast

A record cold storm on the East Coast being called a “bomb cyclone” or “bombogenesis” because of how quickly the atmospheric pressure falls, is predicted to cause near whiteouts, winds of up to 50 mph and a slew of flight cancellations. Weather advisories being issued from Florida to Maine have prompted airlines to offer re-accommodations, and planners to consider their options.

How cold will it get?

After the coldest Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop temperature (9 degrees) since 1917, freezing conditions are sending shivers up and down the East Coast, and dumping snow on destinations known for sunshine and flip flops rather than icicles and snow boots. Tallahassee, Florida, hasn’t seen this much fluffy white stuff since 1989, according to the local weather service. Ditto Georgia. And 5,000 people in Charleston, South Carolina, were without power on Wednesday after freezing rain and snow.

The National Weather Service predicted that New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will see heavy snowfall and wind chills of minus 25 degrees in the coming days. Raleigh-Durham saw a temperature dip to 9 degrees, the coldest since 1887.

What can planners do?

Move it inside. No matter how tempting, don’t mess with Mother Nature. Vicki Johnson, founder of Vicki Jonson & Associates in Washington, D.C., says meetings planned for even the most heated patio are being moved indoors—and staying there. “It looks like we will be dealing with this bitter cold for a while,” she says.

Plan on delays. A New York minute likely becomes a New York hour. Raul Kelley, business development for US Limo Systems in New York City, suggests offering attendees the option of leaving for the airport early—as much as two hours early—during severe weather events. He also advises closely monitoring weather impacts at different airports and changing routes if one is experiencing fewer delays.

If your group is taking advantage of public transportation, regularly checking for updates can help avoid surprises. New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s website warns that under its Cold Weather Plan 4, some subway trains may be taken offline and stored underground until conditions improve, and some express services may only operate local lines.

Make room for higher attrition. Legal expert Lisa Sommer Devlin says meeting insurance can often help cover losses if a storm makes travel impossible. She suggests negotiating for lower attrition thresholds—70 percent rather than 80 percent, for example. She also suggests looking on the positive side. “Venues in cold climes are anxious for your business. You can get great deals.”