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History of Inauguration Day Weather in DC

Every four years, people descend on Washington, D.C., to watch as the next president of the United States of America swears to uphold the Constitution on the Capitol steps. Until 80 years ago, Presidential Inaugurations were held in early March, but were moved to January 20th in 1937 following the ratification of the 20th Amendment. This shortened the lame duck session, however, it placed the ceremony in the heart of winter.

On January 20th, the normal high for the day is 43°F with a low of 28°F. The normal weather at 12pm EST is a temperature of 37°F, with partly cloudy skies, and a wind chill of 31°F.

While that may sound like a nice winter day, some presidents have not been so fortunate.

In 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.

In 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. See pictures. 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.

President Ronald Regan may have been the luckiest, as he had the warmest inauguration for his first term, with a temperatures of 55°F under mostly cloudy skies. However, for his second term, he had the coldest in history, coming in at 7°F, with a wind chill ranging between 10 to 20 degrees below zero, prompting his inauguration to be moved indoors because of the extreme conditions.

While rain is likely for this Friday, it will probably not come close to the type of washout that occurred during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. 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. Total rainfall for the day was a wet 1.77 inches and this amount remains as the record rainfall for January 20th.

The forecast for this Friday calls for cloudy skies with a good chance of showers, with a noon time temperature near 48 degrees.


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