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Presidential Inauguration Day Weather

January 10, 2009



The weather leading up to Inauguration Day will certainly be very cold, but predicts the cold will ease up by Inauguration Day. Temperatures by the end of this week will be in the 20s after a very brutally cold air mass moves into the Eastern part of the country. It will be a quick shot of cold air and will depart over the weekend. As of today, we are predicting temperatures in the 30s with a brisk wind for Inauguration Day which is not bad for Jan. 20.

As for the snow potential. Washington, D.C., has only had a trace of snow this winter. There are indications that a storm will come out of the South and develop just off the Virginia coast the day prior to the Inauguration. The official forecast shows light snow for Monday into Monday evening. If the storm were to develop even more, it’s possible that heavier snow could affect the area Monday night. Given that virtually little snow has fallen across the area, it’s probably a very low probability of a major snowfall in Washington, D.C., but the players are there and we will continue to monitor the snowfall potential.

This is one of those posts that again combines some of my interests.   This time the mix is weather, politics, and history.

The coldest weather in 15 years will hit the nation in two blasts that will impact everything from east of the Rockies, and will effect this area at least through next weekend.  Though I do not mind this cold, and in fact think it exhilarating, there is the consideration as to how it impacts the inauguration of  Barack Obama on January 20th?  (We certainly do not want it to resemble Reagan’s inauguration in 1984.)

Forecasters are already looking ahead, and one thing is clear.  Heavy coats will be required.    As of this writing (and I plan to keep this post updated each day through Inauguarion Day) the weather might be less than ideal.

Of increasing concern in the days prior to Inauguration Day is a bitterly cold blast of air poised to emerge in the northern Plains this Sunday night and Monday. The air is forecast to blast across the eastern two-thirds of the nation through the middle of next week and could have lingering effects right through Inauguration day. There is even concern for some snow in Washington D.C. on or prior to Inauguration Day. The snow is probably a long shot right given that Washington, D.C. has little snow at all this winter, and that trend may continue. Strong winds could be a problem as well.

Weather has always been a factor for the swearing in of a president.

Worst Weather Day – 1909: President William H. Taft’s ceremony was forced indoors due to a storm that dropped 10 inches of snow over the Capital city. The snow and winds began the day before. Strong winds toppled trees and telephone poles. Trains were stalled and city streets clogged. All activity was brought to a standstill. Sanitation workers shoveled sand and snow through half the night. It took 6,000 men and 500 wagons to clear 58,000 tons of snow and slush from the parade route.  Despite the freezing temperatures, howling wind, snow, and sleet, a large crowd gathered in front of the Capitol to view the inauguration, but the weather forced the ceremony indoors. Just after the swearing-in, the snow tapered off.

Most Dramatic and Tragic – 1841: President William Henry Harrison was sworn into office on a cloudy, cold and blustery day. His speech lasted one hour and 40 minutes and he rode a horse to and from the Capitol without a hat or overcoat. Pneumonia developed from a lingering cold he caught on that day and he died just one month later.

Almost as bad – 1853: President Franklin Pierce was sworn into office on another cold and snowy day. He awoke to heavy snow in the morning which continued until about 11:30 am. Skies looked to be brightening by noon. Shortly after Pierce took his oath of office, as he began his inaugural address, snow started again. It came down heavier than ever dispersing much of the crowd and ruining plans for the parade. Abigail Fillmore, First Lady to the outgoing President Millard Fillmore, caught a cold as she sat on the cold, wet, exposed platform during the swearing-in ceremony. The cold developed into pneumonia and she died at the end of the month.

Wash Out – 1937: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration. It was the first time the inauguration was held on January 20th. Two hundred thousand visitors came to Washington for the inauguration, though several thousand never got farther than Union Station. It was a cold rainy day. Some sleet and freezing rain was reported in the morning. Between 11 am and 1 pm, 0.69 inches of rain fell. The ceremony began at 12:23 pm. The noon temperature was 33°F. At the president’s insistence, he rode back to the White House in an open car with a half an inch of water on the floor. Later, he stood for an hour and a half in an exposed viewing stand watching the inaugural parade splash by in the deluge. Total rainfall for the day was a wet 1.77 inches and this amount remains as the record rainfall for January 20th.

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