Hoping Floats Won’t Have To

Times Staff Writer

The legend goes like this: Tournament of Roses officials decreed in 1893 that the Rose Parade would never be held on Sunday so that it would not interfere with the churches that lined Colorado Boulevard.

Since then, planners have been rewarded -- some say divinely -- with only nine rainy parades -- the last one in 1955. But Paul Holman isn’t taking any chances -- especially as the National Weather Service on Wednesday increased the odds of rain on Monday’s parade from 50% to 80% or 90%.

The tournament’s executive vice president doubles as the parade’s weatherman and is charged with holding back the rain by all means necessary.


So Holman, a 64-year-old retired mortgage broker, has visited dozens of churches in Pasadena trying to secure God’s good graces and asking, “Please bless us with a window of sunshine.”

Friends have e-mailed him reminders to say his prayers and given him books about the weather. He’s even considered burning incense or doing an anti-rain dance.

“It hasn’t rained in 50 years and only nine times in 116 years so I would say there’s a fair amount of pressure,” Holman said Wednesday. “It’s totally irrational. But when you have so many people talking to you about the weather, you have to look like you’re doing something, which is also irrational.”

As the tournament’s second-in-command, Holman must continue a tradition that is a bit newer than the “never on Sunday” rule.

The custom dictates that he carry a special Tournament of Roses-sanctioned umbrella in gift wrapping (a red rose pattern topped with a red bow). The hope is that the package never has to be opened. He must also carry a gift-wrapped weather radio that has been handed down for decades.

“They don’t want to have to unwrap those things,” said William B. Flinn, the tournament’s chief operating officer and a 25-year veteran of the organization. “They just want to pass it on to the next person.”


And that’s what Holman is determined to do on Jan. 19, at a special organizational dinner in which he will present his successor with the umbrella and radio while he ascends to the post of president.

While Holman’s outlook remains sunny, other forecasters -- the professionals -- are becoming increasingly pessimistic.

The latest forecast “is very bad news for the Rose Parade because the [radar] shows the strongest part of the storm arriving in the L.A. area” about 4 a.m. -- just before the parade begins, a National Weather Service advisory announced Wednesday afternoon.

Forecasters said the first band of the storm system -- probably the strongest so far in what has been a relatively dry rainy season -- will move in Friday and continue on and off through the weekend. Storms already hit Northern California on Wednesday, prompting flood warnings and raising rivers to their highest levels in seven years.

“All the ingredients appear to be in place for a hefty precipitation and wind event late Sunday and Monday, and everyone in Southern California should be paying close attention to the weather forecast,” the Weather Service advisory said.

Just in case, the tournament has ordered 450 see-through plastic rain suits to be distributed to the volunteers in white. It ran out of the waterproof outfits last year when rain poured on Pasadena until minutes before the parade began. Rose Parade officials point with pride to last year because not only did the clouds part when the festivities began, it started raining again just as the Rose Bowl game ended.


“I think God likes the Rose Parade,” Flinn said. “I know he likes flowers and plants.”

Flinn recalled his first Rose Parade in 1982. He stood on the steps of the tournament’s headquarters on South Orange Grove Boulevard and watched as water drops pounded the ground early on New Year’s Day.

Then at 7:35 a.m., 25 minutes before the parade would be watched by millions, the rain stopped.

The last time rain fell on the parade, it wasn’t pretty. According to The Times’ account, the heavy downpour flooded out streets around the Rose Bowl and created gridlock with hundreds of cars “trapped in a churned sea of mud.”

Many more cars got stuck in the muddy turf of the Brookside Country Club, which, then as now, is used as a parking area for tournament events.

Officials now are worried about how Brookside would hold up during a weekend of rain; last year, it was closed for parking because of heavy rain in the days before the parade and Rose Bowl game.

Tournament spectators were urged to use public transit and shuttles. The 2006 Rose Bowl game, which will determine the national collegiate football champion, will be held Wednesday, two days after the parade.


On the week before the parade -- especially one with rain in the forecast -- Holman can’t go far in Pasadena without being asked “the question.”

In fact, he said, he is usually badgered 50 times a day by people asking how the weather is going to be.

“I can’t show my face without being asked,” Holman said. “I had people thanking me for good weather in August and September. I was actually irritated because I saw that as an enlargement of my duties. I say, ‘Save all the luck for the parade.’ ”

With the tournament’s old weather radio still wrapped in its floral paper, Holman monitors the Weather Channel -- and keeps praying. His supporters have nothing but faith in the Rose Parade’s weatherman.

“He has a responsibility which is almost unreasonable,” Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said. “But after his tenure of service with the tournament and knowing him as I do, I have confidence that he will handle the pressure over the next 72 hours with aplomb, and ultimately, with success.”