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Historical Inaugural Weather: Snow, Rain, Wind and Cold

January 15, 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Chad Merrill


One of the U.S.`s most unique quad-annual political events, the inauguration of a new U.S. President on January 20 in Washington, D.C., has seen a full gamut of weather since it started in 1841.

Washington, D.C.`s weather during the third week of January is highly variable. Located on the East Coast, the U.S. capital`s weather is affected by its close proximity to the Atlantic. The normal high on January 20 is in the lower-40s and morning lows in the upper 20s. Midday temperatures average a cold, but not frigid 37 degrees.

Even so, the inauguration date of January 20 is still in the throes of mid-winter, so there is still a chance that snow, rain, wind or even extremely cold or mild weather affects the swearing in on the capitol steps and subsequent parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Statistically, there is only a one in six chance of precipitation when the ceremony starts, with a one in 20 chance of snow occurring.

Even so, extreme weather has plagued Presidential inaugurations. In 1841, William Henry Harrison took the Presidential oath during a cold and blustery day. Wearing no coat or hat and delivering a nearly 2-hour speech, the new president caught a cold and died of pneumonia just one month later.

Twelve years later in 1853, heavy snow blanketed Washington, D.C., when President Franklin Pierce was sworn into office. Snow caused the crowd to disperse and canceled the parade. Even worse, First Lady Abagail Fillmore to the outgoing President Millard Fillmore caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. She died at the end of the month.

William H. Taft`s 1909 inauguration was forced indoors as 10 inches of snow and extreme blustery winds blasted the capital. Considered the worst inaugural weather, thousands of city workers cleared the parade route.

One of the coldest inaugurations was in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term. The midday temperature was only 7 degrees with a wind chill in the minus-10 to 20 degree range. This ceremony was also moved inside because of the extreme cold and the parade was cancelled.

The last four inaugurations have been seasonably cold with generally quiet weather in D.C. Barack Obama`s first inauguration in 2009 featured mostly sunny skies, breezy northwest winds and a midday temperature of 28 degrees. George W. Bush`s and Bill Clinton`s inaugurations have been in the middle 30s. There was a bit of cloud cover for both of George W. Bush`s inauguration days with rain and fog for his first swearing-in in 2001. Clinton`s swearing-in ceremony in 1997 brought partly sunny skies with middle 30s.

What will the weather be in D.C. for Barack Obama`s second inauguration? Check WeatherBug for the latest forecast heading up to the day of the ceremony. Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.

Source: National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Photo: Snow falls outside the capital during Taft`s inauguration. (Library of Congress).

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