Rainy Atlanta spring quenches drought, dampens outdoor fun

Molly Belviso is one wet wench.

On weekends the Atlanta restaurant manager dons a tight bodice and four flowing skirts to join the would-be merry band at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. But this year she has instead found herself part of a sad troupe of drippy jesters and soggy jousters trampling through a muddy Fairburn field in the nonstop rain. "Last weekend was miserable hell, and there's supposed to be more of the same this weekend," she moans.

This spring's ample and seemingly endless rainfall may be a godsend for drought-ravaged Lake Lanier. But it has been a whole lot of no fun for Atlantans who schedule their favorite outdoor activities in May — normally the sweet spot between April showers and June mosquitoes.

Canceled concerts. Deferred sporting events. Garden parties where the guests make a sudden stampede for the indoors. These have all been the hallmarks of this long, wet Atlantan spring.

Even before this weekend's expected showers, the year-to-date rainfall total for Atlanta had reached 23.47 inches Monday, nearly an inch above average. Last year, the region had just 18.72 inches of rain through May; in 2007, fewer than 12 inches fell during that same period.

The constant drenching has shrunk crowds at outdoor events. Attendance is down 12 percent at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Atlanta Braves home games have flirted with the smallest crowds seen since they moved to Turner Field 12 seasons ago.

Weather watchers

For Pablo Henderson, the rain has thwarted attempts at both play and work.

An avid polo player, he has managed to play only one game this season, as even a little rain poses a threat to both the horses and the grass. Normally, he would have played eight or nine games by now.

But he's had even more problems in his role as a nightlife promoter. After heavily hyping the opening-night party for the rooftop lounge on the Glenn Hotel downtown — now called 11 Stories — he had to shut it down not long after guests arrived. "It's been a really awful start to the season," he griped.

Event planner Liz Lapidus says weather watching has become a professional obsession. "You watch the Weather Channel nonstop. You're always on weather.com. But the thing is, you just have to have a backup plan."

For instance, the recent opening of Livingston Restaurant inside the Georgian Terrace hotel in Midtown was supposed to have a grand red carpet stretching down Peachtree Street. But once it started spitting, the carpet was moved inside.

The Bio International Convention, which ended Thursday, was forced to move its opening reception inside from Centennial Olympic Park to the Georgia World Congress Center.

Online angsting about last weekend's Coldplay concert at Lakewood Amphitheatre provided a new watermark. Before the concert, ticket holders wondered about the prospect of wet weather on their Facebook pages — particularly when heavy rain early in the day portended a miserable time. But the event proved bearable.

"We had the last row of seats that weren't covered," said Michael Mills, who spent the evening zipped up in a Northface rain jacket. While it did drizzle throughout the show, it "did not come down buckets once the concert got going, so that was good."

Some silver linings

For the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the season of rain has made things tricky.

"It seemed like the minute we tried to schedule something, it started raining," said Amanda Campbell, manager of display gardens. Campbell was responsible for getting the Southern Seasons Garden planted in time for a grand opening event on the first weekend in May.

"You can't plant in wet soil, so we'd have these periods where we'd plant furiously, then stop, then start planting furiously again," she laughed. The constant mud also made it tricky for the cranes setting up the huge Henry Moore sculptures now on exhibit in the garden.

But, the constant rain has been a blessing, too. It's made the garden look particularly lush this year and filled its giant cistern for the summer.

"As gardeners, we're not going to complain about the rain," Campbell said.

Belviso, the professional wench, can take some comfort that her job at the Renaissance Festival is selling flowers. "I feel the most pity for the poor people working the Soak-a-Bloke/Drench-a-Wench game," she says. Full immersion in a water tank before returning to the downpour, she says, can be "kind of a career-changing experience."