Steady rain falls on Main Street in downtown Gardner at 10:30 a.m. on August 5, 2017. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms moving through, and as a result the Johnson County Fair Parade was cancelled due to concern for public safety. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Stormy weather was forecast for Aug. 5, and that morning people all around Gardner and southwest Johnson County were asking “Is the Johnson County Fair Parade still on?”
The parade was scheduled to begin Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. – the kick off event for the last and biggest day of the 2017 Johnson County Fair.
The weather forecasts on Friday night did not look good. They called for a 90 to 100 percent chance of thunderstorms developing in the area at the time the parade was to start.
It’s hard to find anyone who can remember the last time the Johnson County Fair Parade was cancelled, but some do recall one year in the mid 1970’s when a storm came in after the parade was underway and created a disorganized retreat of floats and participants trying to get to shelter.
Late Friday evening through early Saturday morning, the parade sponsors were communicating with the Gardner Police Department, monitoring conditions and considering if the parade should be cancelled.
The parade is intended to be a ‘rain or shine’ event and the sponsors certainly didn’t want to cancel it, but this forecast called for severe weather – not just rain, but strong storms with lightning.
That makes public safety the overriding concern – and the sponsors weren’t the only ones worried about the forecast.
Jason Camis, president of Gardner Edgerton Chamber of Commerce, says that his staff began getting calls from parade participants early that morning, before the official decision was made.
“We started receiving a lot of cancellations from people who were going to be in the parade,” says Camis, “With that, and knowing there were storms coming behind the front line of rain, it made more sense to cancel.”
It seemed certain that the storms were going to cancel the parade, one way or another. The large number of people who participate in the parade, with many traveling here from out of town, was a consideration.
“We wanted to give proper time, rather than letting them show up and then cancelling. That’s why we made the decision earlier in the morning,” said Camis.
The decision to cancel was made around 7:30 a.m., officially announced shortly afterwards and the word began spreading on social media.
The Johnson County Fair Parade was not the only event storms cancelled on Saturday.
The demolition derby that was scheduled for the evening was cancelled and rescheduled for Aug. 12.
The carnival rides and vendors on the fairway, on what was supposed to be their biggest night of business, closed in the late afternoon and started packing up to leave town.
Events were cancelled all around the metro area too, including the Kansas City Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.
Why can’t the parade just be rescheduled for a following weekend?
The parade is harder to reschedule than an event like the demolition derby is. There are a greater number of participants involved, it all happens in public streets and utilizes resources of the city, police, fire and ambulance services.
Camis says that organizing all that on a short notice would be difficult to do.
The fair parade will not be rescheduled, however the Chamber of Commerce wants to put together a “virtual parade”.
Camis is collecting photos and videos of people, groups and floats that would have been in the parade and plans to compile them into a video to be shared on the internet.
Camis says entry fees will be refunded on request.
“If people want a refund they can call us, we’re not going to tell them no. We’re hopeful that many of them will allow us to apply it to next year,” said Camis.
Our parade got rained on this year – and that is disappointing – but considering that since this is the first time in roughly 50 years that has happened, that’s a pretty good record.