Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
With the forecast calling for rain on Fat Tuesday, the question has entered a conversation or two over the past few days: has rain ever canceled Mardi Gras?
The answer is that – officially – Rex has canceled his Fat Tuesday procession only once and the history’s even better for Zulu, with no recorded cancellations for weather.
Unofficially, as you’d expect, the party has always been too big to slow down because of a few rain drops.
The Rex Organization has canceled its parade only once in its 140-year history, in 1933. Oddly enough the official statistics show only .26” of rain fell that day. But The Times-Picayune from the next morning, March 1, explains that the parade was in fact called off because of the inclement weather, quoting the captain and safety concerns for his krewe members.
“If I send them out in this wet and cold and these men develop five or six pneumonia cases, I should never forgive myself,” the Rex captain, who by tradition is not identified, said.
“One human life or even the life of one mule (the animals which pulled the floats at that time) is worth more than a parade. We shall always have parades. These men, many of them, are not young.”
The Comus parade did roll later that night, and as you’d expect, even with the rainy weather the street party was in full swing.
“While the major morning parades were called off, smaller organizations dashed out into the streets between showers and staged partial parades,” wrote the Picayune the next day. “Maskers crowded under sheds, awnings and balconies and in hotel lobbies…but emerged to promenade up and down the streets when the rain ‘let up a bit.’”
More recently, parade goers will remember the rains of 1995, when 1.71” of rain fell on Fat Tuesday, but even that didn’t keep Rex or Zulu off the streets. The rain let up just before daybreak, but then started again after 9 a.m., forcing Zulu to roll through stormy skies and Rex to delay his parade’s start time until after noon.
Legendary former WWL-TV meteorologist Nash Roberts, who held the title of royal meteorologist for Rex for many years, helped the krewe make the decision to delay its parade but eventually roll that year.
Royal meteorologist is a title his son Nash Roberts III now holds. His father took the job in stride, knowing that even a weather guru like himself was hard-pressed to predict Mother Nature 100 percent of the time.
"As a weather forecaster, there are few periods whose approach I dread more than that of Carnival season," Roberts wrote in 1965 for Thomas Lupo's annual souvenir Mardi Gras program.
"Weatherwise, you couldn't pick a worse time of the year to plan lavish, largely outdoor parades and festivities. I am sure that most meteorologists feel, as I do, that they would like to don their Mardi Gras costume about three weeks early and masquerade as someone else until Ash Wednesday," he wrote, tongue firmly in cheek.
The Mardi Gras celebration of 1927 still holds the record for rainfall, with 2.12” of precipitation recorded, but parades still rolling on that day.
This year, Rex and Zulu officials have both said they will keep watchful eyes on the weather and if needed, use any window of opportunity to get the parades on and off the streets as quickly and safely as possible.