Presidential Inauguration Weather History

Presidential Inauguration Weather History

InaugurationWeatherHistoryWeather has not always been calm during our peaceful transition of power in American History. It has played an integral role, sometimes with heavy rain, snow, or intense cold. January 20th is not the set date for every presidential inauguration, but it will be this 2017 for Donald Trump. The forecast continues to show a chilly rain, but it far from extreme for what can happen in Washington DC for this event. Here is an extensive account of the weather for each inauguration. Thanks to research from the National Weather Service in Sterling Virginia that governs over our area. Note that January was not always the month when a new president was sworn in. In 1933 and prior, it was traditionally on March 4.

Interesting notes:

  • Ronald Reagan had both the warmest AND coldest January inaugurations.
  • Taft had Faith in the Flakes. His inauguration had 9.8 inches of snow! FITF
  • The image above was in a downpour for President Benjamin Harrison under an umbrella in 1889. It was 48 years early when his grandfather,  William Harrison,  caught pneumonia on a cold and blustery inauguration day and died one month into taking office.

Let’s start with this year’s January 20th date itself:

Climate Data For January 20th in Washington DC

43°FNormal High Temperature

70°F1951 Record High 

28°FNormal Low Temperature

-2°F1985 Record Low

1.77″Record Rain in 1937

3.8 inchesMost snow set in 1985

 

What is Normal Weather for a ‘January’ Inauguration?

  • Normal high temperature for the day is 43°F.
  • Normal low temperature for the day is in the upper 28°F.
  • Normal weather for 12 pm EST is a temperature of 37°F, partly cloudy skies, 10 mph wind and a wind chill of 31°F.
  • There is about a 1 in 3 chance of measurable precipitation (i.e., at least 0.01″) on that day and a 1 in 6 chance of precipitation during the ceremony.
  • There is only about a 1 in 10 chance of measurable snow (i.e., at least 0.1″) on that day and a 1 in 20 chance of snow during the ceremony.
  • There is about a 1 in 6 chance that there will be at least 1″ of snow already on the ground from a previous snowfall.

 

Most Extreme Weather For A January Inauguration

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.

Inauguration_Snow_TaftWorst 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. 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.

Images: Photo taken in front of Presidential Reviewing stand.

Below:

President Taft and wife returning to White House after the ceremony

Inauguration_Snow_Taft_Wife

 

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.

 

Worst Traffic Jam – 1961: On the eve of the inauguration, 8 inches of snow fell and caused the most crippling traffic jam (for its time). Hundreds of cars were marooned and thousands of cars were abandoned.  The president-elect had to cancel dinner plans and, in a struggle to keep other commitments, is reported to have had only 4 hours of sleep. Former President Herbert Hoover was unable to fly into Washington National Airport due to the weather and he had to miss the swearing-in ceremony. By sunrise, the snow had ended and the skies were clearing, but the day remained bitter cold.  An army of men worked all night to clear Pennsylvania Avenue and despite the cold, a large crowd turned out for the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parade. At noon, the temperature was only 22°F and the wind was blowing from the northwest at 19 mph making it feel like the temperature was 7°F above zero.

 

Warmest Inaugurations:  (Official weather records began in 1871)

Warmest January 20th Traditional Date: 1981 – Ronald Reagan – 55°F under mostly cloudy skies.
Warmest March 4th Traditional Date:
        Official record: 1913 – Woodrow Wilson – 55°F under overcast skies in Washington, DC.
        Unofficial: 1793 – George Washington – estimated 61°F in Philadelphia, PA.
Warmest Non-traditional Dates: August 9, 1974 – Gerald Ford – 89°F with partly cloudy and hazy skies.

Coldest Inaugurations:

 

Coldest January Date (and overall):  1985 – President Ronald Reagan’s second swearing-in ceremony on January 21 had to be held indoors and the parade was canceled. The outside temperature at noon was only 7°F. The morning low was 4° below zero and the daytime high was only 17°. Wind chill temperatures during the afternoon were in the -10 to -20°F range.
Coldest March Date:  1873 – Ulysses S. Grant’s second swearing-in ceremony – The morning low temperature of 4°F was a record for the month of March. The day remains the coldest March day on record. During the day, bitterly cold winds gusted up to 40 mph. By noon, the temperature had risen to 16°F. Wind chill temperatures were -15° to -30°F.  Cadets and midshipmen had been standing on the mall for more than an hour and a half without overcoats. Several of them collapsed. When the president delivered his inaugural address, the wind made his words inaudible to even those on the platform with him. The inaugural ball was held in a temporary building without heat. It had to be halted at midnight so people, who had been dancing in their overcoats and heavy wraps, could go home and get warm.

Inauguration Weather Highlights

  • 1817    =    First outdoor inauguration. President James Monroe was sworn into office.
  • 1873    =    Coldest March 4th inauguration. Noon temperature was only 16°F with a record low temperature for March of only 4°F. Sunshine was no help as the wind made it bitterly cold. President Ulysses S. Grant was sworn into office for his second term.
  • 1909    =    Most snow with 9.8 inches. Also very strong winds. President William H. Taft was sworn into office.
  • 1913    =    Warmest March 4th inauguration. Noon temperature was 55°F.
  • 1937    =    First inauguration held on January 20th.
  • 1937    =    Record rainfall. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration. A total rainfall of 1.77 inches fell that cold day.  Between 11 am and 1 pm, 0.69 inches of rain fell with a noon temperature of 33°F.
  • 1961    =    Eight (8) inches of fresh snow laid on the ground for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
  • 1981    =    Warmest January inauguration. Noon temperature was 55°F. It was Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration and would greatly contrast his second inauguration listed below.
  • 1985    =    Coldest January inauguration (Jan. 21). Noon temperature was only 7°F. The morning low temperature was -4°F and the afternoon high was only 17°F. Wind chill temperatures in the afternoon were in the -10 to -20°F range. It was Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration ceremony.

Traditional January Inaugurations -Beginning with Most Recent

YearPresidentNoon
Temp.
 Remarks
2013Barack Obama45°FCloudy.  South wind 7 mph.
2009Barack Obama28°FFiltered sun through the thin cirrus clouds. Breezy with northwest winds around 15 mph, gusting 20-25 mph. Wind chill values in the mid teens.
2005George W. Bush35°FMostly cloudy with some sunny breaks.  Northwest wind 14 mph. Around 1″ of snow already on the ground.
2001George W. Bush36°FA cool dreary day, with rain and fog – visibility 2 miles. An inch of rain had fallen the day before, with another third of an inch falling on Inauguration Day. Rain changed to a little light snow (0.3″) late in the evening.
1997William Jefferson Clinton34°FPartly sunny with a high overcast. Winds were from the south at 7 mph.
1993William Jefferson Clinton40°FSunny and pleasant.
1989George Bush51°FMostly cloudy, mild and breezy.
1985Ronald Reagan7°FSunny, but bitter cold. Wind chill temperatures fell into the -10° to -20°F range in the afternoon.
1981Ronald Reagan55°FMostly cloudy and mild.
1977Jimmy Carter28°FCold and sunny. The wind chill temperature was in the teens.
1973Richard Nixon42°FCloudy and windy.
1969Richard Nixon35°FCloudy with rain and sleet later in the day.
1965Lyndon B. Johnson38°FSkies were cloudy and one inch of snow on the ground.
1961John F. Kennedy22°FSnow into the early morning left 8 inches on the ground. It was sunny but cold the rest of the day.
1957Dwight D. Eisenhower44°FJan. 21: Light snow in the early morning. Cloudy skies with a few flurries in the mid afternoon.
1953Dwight D. Eisenhower49°FCloudy skies.
1949Harry S. Truman38°FMostly sunny and windy.
1945Franklin D. Roosevelt35°FLight snow ended around 9 a.m. that morning. Cloudy skies.
1941Franklin D. Roosevelt29°FSunny, but cold with a brisk wind. Wind chill 10°F.
1937Franklin D. Roosevelt33°FCold with heavy rainy. Between 11 am and 1 pm, 0.69 inches of rain fell.  Some sleet and freezing rain fell in the morning.

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Traditional March Inaugurations -Beginning with 1933 and going back to 1871 (1871 = Beginning of official government weather records)

 

YearPresidentNoon
Temp.
 Remarks
1933Franklin D. Roosevelt42°FMostly cloudy with a few peaks of sun.
1929Herbert C. Hoover48°FA heavy rain began just before the oath of office was administered, and the Capitol grounds and parade route were so crowded that it was impossible for anyone to run for cover. By the time he completed his inaugural address, President Hoover’s face was beaded with water and his suit was wringing wet. Herbert Hoover’s inaugural parade moved up Pennsylvania Avenue during a lull in the rain. (See picture below). Intermittent rain continued through the day. Total rainfall was 0.40 inches.
1925Calvin Coolidge44°FMostly sunny skies.
1921Warren Harding38°FSunny.
1917Woodrow Wilson38°FPartly Cloudy and windy. Ceremony on March 5.
1913Woodrow Wilson55°FOvercast, but mild.
1909William H. Taft32°FHeavy snow, drifting snow, and strong winds. The 10 inch snow fall ended at 12:20 pm but the afternoon remained cloudy and windy.
1905Theodore Roosevelt45°FSunny with strong northwest winds. Patches of snow remained on the ground from a light snow fall the day before.
1901William McKinley47°FOvercast. It rained overnight and then began again during the ceremony and ended at 3:45. Total rainfall was 0.32 inches.
1897William McKinley40°FClear.
1893Grover Cleveland25°FSnow began during the early morning and ended around 1 pm. One to two inches fell across the area. A biting wind blew from the northwest. The crowd was small for the ceremony. Many planned events were canceled.
1889Benjamin Harrison43°FRained all day. Total rainfall was 0.86 inches. Took oath of office in a downpour under an umbrella. (See picture below).
1885Grover Cleveland54°FSunny.
1881James A. Garfield33°FSnowed all night until about 10 am. The afternoon was sunny and windy.
1877Rutherford B. Hayes35°FCloudy with brief periods of light snow. Ceremony was on March 5.
1873Ulysses S. Grant16°FClear, windy and bitterly cold. Morning low of 4°F remains the coldest March day on record. Wind chill temperature of -15°F.

 

Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration in 1889.

inaug-rain

 

Herbert Hoover’s inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue

inaug-wet

 

Traditional March Inaugurations – Beginning with 1869 and going back to 1817 (beginning of outdoor ceremonies).  Note: weather records are unofficial during this period.

 

 

YearPresidentNoon
Temp.
 Remarks
1869Ulysses S. Grant40°FLight rained all morning but stopped just before noon. Afternoon was mostly sunny. Total rain was 0.11 inches.
1865Abraham Lincoln45°FRain for two days and right up to the ceremony when it ended and the sun broke through. Total rainfall for the day was 0.30 with the bulk of it falling near daybreak. Grounds around the Capitol were very soft and muddy.
1861Abraham LincolnRain until mid morning and then sunny and mild in the afternoon.
1857James Buchanan49°FSunny.
1853Franklin Pierce35°FLight snow and windy…heavier snow during the president’s inaugural address. (Temperature is estimated)
1849Zachary Taylor42°FCloudy with snow flurries. Heavy snow began during the inaugural ball. Ceremony was on March 5.
1845James K. Polk42°FThunderstorm at dawn with rain during the day. Total rainfall was 0.40 inches. Polk took his oath of office under an umbrella in heavy rain. The crowd was a sea of umbrellas with people standing ankle deep in mud.
1841William H. Harrison48°FOvercast with a cold wind. (Noon temperature is estimated)
1837Martin Van Buren26°FSunny and brisk.  (Noon temperature is estimated)
1833Andrew Jackson29°FUncertain. Probable fair weather based on descriptions of happy crowds. (Noon temperature is estimated)
1829Andrew Jackson57°FWarm and balmy. (Noon temperature is estimated)
1825John Quincy Adams47°FRain. Total rainfall was 0.79 inches.  Observations taken by Adams himself.
1821James Monroe28°FCeremony on March 5. Observation taken by John Quincy Adams. Snow began on Saturday evening making Washington snowbound by Sunday afternoon. Snow continued through the inauguration day forcing Monroe to take his oath of office in the House Chambers.
1817James Monroe50°FWarm and sunny. First outdoor inauguration. (Noon temperature is estimated)

 

 

Traditional  Inaugurations- Indoors – Beginning with 1813 and going back to 1789  (Weather records are unofficial during this period)

 

YearPresident Remarks
1813James MadisonMarch 4 ceremony. Sunny.
1809James MadisonMarch 4 ceremony. Cloudy. Rained the day before leaving the streets muddy.
1805Thomas JeffersonMarch 4 ceremony. Fair (meaning good). Observation taken by Jefferson. Estimated noon temperature of 50°F.
1801Thomas JeffersonMarch 4 ceremony. Mild and beautiful. Estimated noon temperature of 55°F.
1797John AdamsCeremony in Philadelphia on March 4. Fair. Estimated noon temperature 53°F
1793George WashingtonCeremony in Philadelphia on March 4. Hazy sunshine and mild. Estimated noon temperature 61°F.
1789George WashingtonCeremony in New York City on April 30.  Clear and cool. Estimated noon temperature of 59°F.

Inauguration Weather For Non-Traditional Dates

YearDatePresidentTemperatureWeather / Remarks
1974Aug. 9President Gerald Ford89°FPartly cloudy skies and hazy.
1963Nov. 22President Lyndon B. Johnson68°FSkies were clear. Ceremony was at 2:29 pm in Dallas, Texas. Oath of office taken inside Air Force One.
1945April 12President Harry Truman64°FFair skies. Ceremony was at 7:09 pm. (Temperature is estimated)
1923Aug. 3President Calvin Coolidge65°FFair skies. Ceremony was at 2:46 am in the Green Mountains of Vermont. (Temperature is estimated)
1901Sept. 15President Theodore Roosevelt72°FSkies were clear. Ceremony was in Buffalo, New York. (Noon temperature is estimated)
1881Sept. 19President Chester Arthur75°FWeather was fair. Ceremony was in New York City.
1865April 15President Andrew Johnson57°FRainy day. (0.35 inches of rain fell.)
1850July 10President Millard Fillmore87°FCloudy skies. Ceremony was indoors. (Noon temperature is estimated)
1841April 6President John Tyler50°FClear skies. (Noon temperature is estimated)

 

References:

  • “The Weather of Inauguration Day” by Patrick Hughes, ESSA, Environmental Data Services, 1968.  (ESSA became NOAA in 1970)
  • “American Weather Stories”, Published: DOC/NOAA/Environmental Data Service, Washington, DC, 1976.
  • Data collected by NOAA’s National Weather Service Washington Forecast Office.
  • Weather records/data is maintained at the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, NC.
  • All Photos from the collection of the Library of Congress.

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Also See:

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Maryland Winters

NOAA Winter Outlook for 2016 to 2017

La Nina Formed: What it could mean to our winter

Farmers Almanacs Split On Cold And Snow

Extreme Weather of 2015 balanced out on both ends

Low Snow Winters In Baltimore: Records Might Surprise You

NOAA Ranks Blizzard 2016 4th Worst Snowstorm On Record

Blizzard 2016 Record Top Snowstorm: Area Totals

January 19th, 2017|Tags: , , , , , , |