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Election Days Past Have Seen Some Wild Weather

UPDATED November 6, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal


Every four years, Americans head to the polls on Election Day in order to select the President of the United States. Since 1848, Congress has mandated that these federal elections be held on the first Tuesday -- following the first Monday -- in November. This year`s election is today.

Here`s a look at some of the most exciting weather that has impacted the U.S. on the final day of some historical presidential campaigns.

November 7, 1876: Rutherford Hayes (R) defeats Samuel Tilden (D)

A coastal low ripped up the Eastern Seaboard on Election Day 1876, bringing heavy rain to the major Northeast cities, with very chilly air spreading into the Upper Mississippi Valley.

Boston, New York, and Philadelphia all saw more than an inch of rain that day, as an area of low pressure formed near Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moved northeast. Warm air was also plentiful along the East Coast, as highs reached into the 60s as far north as Washington, D.C., and 50s in Boston.

Weather reports were not common across the Western U.S. in 1876 - - of all of the states from the Dakotas westward, only Nebraska, Kansas, Nevada, California, Oregon and Colorado were states as of the 1876 election. However, what is known is that cold Canadian high pressure built into the Dakotas that day. After readings in the single digits Election Day morning, temperatures struggled to crack the freezing mark in the then territories of the Upper Mississippi Valley, although skies remained sunny. This chilly weather did not impact the election, as North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming were not yet states, and thus residents could not vote.

November 8, 1932: Franklin Roosevelt (D) defeats Herbert Hoover (R)

The day of the first election during the Great Depression saw soggy weather across much of the U.S., as a number of storms stretched from coast to coast.

A strong low-pressure system was located that day across the Mississippi Valley. Ahead of the front, warm Gulf of Mexico air streamed northward into the Ohio Valley, with Louisville, Ky., reaching a high of 74 degrees, and Knoxville, Tenn., peaking at 76 degrees. The Plains and Rockies saw much colder weather, with high temperatures only in the 30s and 40s as far south as Missouri, along with 1 to 2 inches of rain in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

A weak storm system was centered off the Carolinas, and maintained cloudy weather and light rain from southern New England to Virginia. Another storm rolled into the Pacific Northwest on Election Day 1932, bringing cool and soggy weather to Oregon and Washington. Otherwise, high pressure in the Interior West brought seasonably warm temperatures to the Southwest and California. Los Angeles was the regional hot spot at 90 degrees.

The exciting weather was not limited to the United States, as a powerful hurricane was located in the northern Caribbean. With winds recorded at 125 mph, the storm flattened Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The next day, the hurricane produced a 21-foot storm surge as it moved ashore near Santa Cruz del Sur, Cuba, killing more than 3,000 people.

November 7, 2000: George Bush (R) defeats Al Gore (D)

The day of one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history was also a stormy one for many residents of the United States. A strong low-pressure system in the Upper Mississippi Valley drew together cold air and plenty of moisture across the western Dakotas and Montana. The result was a blizzard that dropped up to a foot of snow in Williston, N.D., making travel near-impossible. Snow-covered roads were so bad that some communities resorted to driving voters to the polls in four-wheelers. By the end of the day, much of North Dakota received at least 6 inches of snow, with some accumulation extending as far south as the Twin Cities.

More travel-troubles were reported that day further south along a cold front that stretched into New Mexico. Here, up to a foot of snow fell the night before the election, preventing many poll workers from driving to the polls. Very cold air behind the cold front slipped through the Rockies into the Plains, with North Platte, Neb., only reaching 30 degrees that day.

The weather was quiet for voters along the East and West coasts for the 2000 election, however. High pressure off the Carolina coast allowed mild air to spread northward, with Buffalo, N.Y., reaching a high of 64 degrees that day. Columbus, Ohio, was 67 degrees, while Nashville, Tenn., reached 77 degrees before evening thunderstorms brought more than an inch of rain to the Volunteer State that night. Sunshine and warm temperatures were common across the West that day as well, as highs of 70 degrees were recorded in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.

It is unlikely that any of these weather events had any significant impact on the election. With regard to the snowy weather in 2000, several staffers for both political parties were quoted as saying "people get to the polls any way they need to, no matter the weather." People found their ways to the polls in spite of the weather in 1932 as well. Some newspapers report record turnout, as voters looked for a solution to the deepening Great Depression.

It is too early to say whether Hurricane Sandy and the havoc it produced in the Mid-Atlantic and the greater New York City area a week b before the 2012 election will have any effect on the presidential election.

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Story Image: Voters stand in line in Charlotte, N.C., waiting to vote for President in 2008. (Chuck Burton, The Associated Press)

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