It was either Fourth of July fireworks or nature's own pyrotechnics.
For the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Country Club and the towns of Mount Airy and Manchester, Thursday's threat of lightning, hail and heavy downpours was enough to postpone early Independence Day celebrations. Organizers of fireworks displays for the soldiers of Fort Meade and at the Suburban Club in Pikesville meanwhile planned to brave the weather.
After a hot, humid and stormy week with the looming threat of Hurricane Arthur, some, like Ocean City officials, chose to take advantage of the calendar and shift celebrations from Friday's iffy forecasts to Saturday's unseasonably cool, dry and clear weather. Others plan to carry forward with Fourth of July festivities as scheduled, though perhaps with a wet start.
"It's unfortunate that the weather and the holiday didn't cooperate with each other," Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said.
The beach town shifted its two fireworks shows from Friday night to Saturday night given that storms from a cold front and possible rain and gusty winds from Arthur would make the 10- to 12-hour process of setting up difficult, if not impossible, he said.
In the Baltimore area, strong thunderstorms were forecast into early Friday morning as a front of cool, dry air moved through overnight, meeting the hot, humid air that simmered over the region this week. Along the Atlantic coast, Arthur's outer bands were expected to possibly bring Ocean City rain showers Friday, as well as 40 mph winds, in addition to any storms associated with the front.
The prospect of storms made for some difficult decisions for event organizers.
"It's a little bit like looking at horoscopes," said Eileen Andrews, a BSO spokeswoman, as the organization considered whether to go on with the first of two nights of outdoor concerts Thursday at Oregon Ridge Park. Officials consulted various forecasts and went directly to Tony Pann, a meteorologist at WBAL-TV, a media sponsor of the annual event, and ultimately made the decision to cancel Thursday's concert.
Tickets for the Thursday show will be honored at Friday's — meaning organizers are expecting a few thousand extra attendees, with an audience of as many as 10,000, Andrews said.
At the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, organizers did what they could Thursday to prepare for their fireworks display and daylong celebration Friday. The event starts with a group rendition of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" and flag-raising ceremony at noon and includes musical performances, wagon rides, a moon bounce, and arts and crafts for children, before fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
But the weather prevented them from putting up tents and other structures in advance of the storms.
"We don't want to risk them blowing away or becoming missiles," said Dottie Freeman, the farm museum's manager.
Those eager for a front-row seat for the fireworks at Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia typically put out blankets and chairs as early as 8 a.m., said Anna Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Howard County parks department.
"Those people might not able to do that this year without getting wet," said Hunter, adding that the fireworks show still is planned to launch at dusk Friday.
In Harford County, Bel Air's Fourth of July events are scheduled to go on. Events run all day — from frog-jumping contests and a bicycle rodeo in the morning to a parade at 6 p.m. down Main Street and fireworks at 9:30 p.m. at Rockfield Park.
Morning activities are held at the discretion of sponsors and host organizations — if they are canceled because of rain, they won't be rescheduled, said Michael Blum, the parade chairman.
But the parade will go on, he said, "unless it's a matter of public safety, like a tornado or lighting flashes. We've had quite a few parades in the rain in the last 10 years — we just go and, in fact, we don't mind a little rain because it cools things off."
Blum said there's a provision to move the fireworks to Saturday night if weather's a problem, but such a decision wouldn't be made until around 9 p.m. Friday, however.
"We have fired away in pouring rain," Blum said. "The only scenario I can see would be if the wind kicked up at 9:30 and we couldn't fire."
Organizers of events scheduled for Thursday night were mixed on whether to heed the forecasts or take a chance. A spokesman for the Suburban Club said the show there would be ready to go at dusk — and if it needed to start sooner because of an incoming storm, it would.
Watermark Cruises planned to go ahead with a 200-person cruise in Annapolis on Thursday night to watch neighborhood fireworks shows from the Severn River.
And with a large carnival that began at Fort Meade on Thursday afternoon, organizers there were reluctant to cancel the evening fireworks show in advance.
"I don't see them canceling it unless there's a major thunderstorm that rolls right over us," said Matty Wise, assistant business manager at Club Meade, the installation's dining and catering facility. "It's a major production."
But with skies expected to begin clearing by late morning or midday Friday, organizers of Fourth of July events planned to go forward, whatever the weather brings.
George Kendrick, who has organized the Arbutus Fourth of July parade for the past 17 years and the town's annual Firecracker 10K for 32 years, said he didn't have the option to postpone, with marching bands and other groups coming from as far away as Florida and Georgia.
"You just pray. I pray that tomorrow morning at 7 o'clock that it's about 65 degrees, and when the race goes off at 8 o'clock, it stays that way, and that it doesn't rain and it's not too humid," Kendrick said. "Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don't, but the dear Lord's been good to me the last 17 years I've been running everything."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Will Fesperman, Sonya Varga and Allan Vought contributed to this article.