Hurricanes and Melissa Cook just don’t get along. Last August, she and her boyfriend, Jason Archbell, got engaged on a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina; the celebratory week at the beach was cut short when Hurricane Earl prompted mandatory evacuations. This August, the happy couple from Philadelphia made a return trip to welcome 150 guests to their wedding, planned for Saturday at Jennette’s Pier, a brand-new reception area perched atop the Atlantic Ocean.
On Wednesday night, they learned from The Weather Channel that their plans had been scuttled yet again, this time by a blustery bully named Irene. “I saw the words ‘mandatory evacuation,’ and I just burst into tears,” says Cook, 29 and a civil engineer. “My thinking was because it happened this time last year, there’s no way it could happen again.”
But it did, and on Thursday, they once again found themselves in the same gray Ford Escape, inching out of the barrier islands, scrambling to reschedule their big day. So much for the buffet of shrimp and grits and brie on sweet potato rolls, goodbye to the éclair wedding cake. They headed to Richmond, Virginia, where they’re from originally — and which had its own weather excitement this week in the form of a seriously out-of-character nearby earthquake — and went to work trying to piece back together in one day an event that had taken 10 months to plan. “I haven’t found someone to marry us quite yet,” says Cook, en route. “But come hell or high water, I have said I will go on my honeymoon as a married woman.” (The honeymoon, to Aruba, was selected “very intentionally” because it’s outside the typical hurricane track.)
By late Thursday, Cook and Archbell, an assistant lacrosse coach at the University of Pennsylvania, had figured things out. They would marry in the same church where Cook’s parents had taken their vows, on Friday before the weather gets much worse in Virginia. The Westin in downtown Richmond anted up a reception hall for the 70 or so guests who are expected to attend. There are donated linens, a gratis cake — who knows what flavor; beggars can’t be choosers — a complimentary videographer and a free wedding bouquet, which is all really fortunate because the wedding in Nags Head had been paid for in full. Although the pier is returning the fee, other vendors are not. Hurricanes are common enough in the Outer Banks that most places stipulate in their contracts that they’re not cause for a refund.
“I constantly tell my brides there are only so many things I can control,” says Gena Martin, the couple’s wedding coordinator, “and the weather’s not one of them.”