3 Things To Know About Inauguration Day Weather

The United States is on the verge of inaugurating a new President. On January 20th, 2020, Joe Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States, and Kamala Harris becomes the first woman to serve as Vice President. Unfortunately, things in Washington, D.C. have been very unsettled from a civil and political standpoint. Given the recent bad news in our nation’s capital, I began to wonder how the weather for Inauguration Day looked with six days to go. As a meteorologist, here’s what I see as well as a little bit of Inauguration Day weather history.

First, I will explore the history of Inauguration Day weather. For that information I turned to the National Weather Service. Here are some facts about the climatology of January Inauguration Days:

  • The normal high temperature: 43°F.
  • The normal low temperature: 28°F.
  • The normal weather conditions at 12 pm EST: A temperature of 37°F with partly cloudy skies and a 10 mph wind (which results in a wind chill of 31°F).
  • Chance for measurable precipitation during the day: ~33%.
  • Chance for measurable precipitation during the ceremony: 1 in 6.
  • Chance of snow: 1 in 10 (for the day) and 1 in 20 (during the ceremony)

There is also a 1 in 6 chance that snow will already be on the ground.

With about six days to go, the current forecast for Inauguration Day according to the National Weather Service -Sterling, Virginia is “Partly sunny, with a high near 46.” At this time, this suggests that temperatures could be slightly warmer than normal, and there is also no indication of snow in the days leading up to Inauguration Day.

It is nowhere close to the warmest Inauguration Day. For the January 20th date, it was 55°F and cloudy during Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration. For the March 4th date (which was used prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration), it was also 55°F during Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration though unofficial records suggest that temperatures were near 61°F in Philadelphia for George Washington in 1793. Gerald Ford was actually inaugurated on August 9th, 1974. It was 89°F.

The coldest Inauguration Day happened in 1985 for Ronald Reagan’s second ceremony. The temperature was 7°F and the morning low was near -4°F. Wind chills were also negative, which forced the ceremony to be moved indoors and the parade to be canceled.

The National Weather Service website provides some fascinating weather-related stories about Inauguration Day. In 1841, President William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a very cold, blustery day and gave a rather lengthy speech before riding coatless (and hatless) from the Capitol on a horse. He died from Pneumonia roughly a month later. In 1853, outgoing First Lady Abigail Fillmore caught a cold and pneumonia after enduring a cold, wet ceremony and died shortly thereafter.

William Taft’s inauguration is generally viewed as the worst weather day. According to the NWS website, “(the) ceremony was forced indoors due to a storm that dropped 10 inches of snow over the Capital city…Strong winds toppled trees and telephone poles.” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration was the first time that the ceremony was held on January 20th. Almost 2 inches of rain fell on that day. It also rained in 2016 during the ceremony for Donald J. Trump.

Though the forecast for President-Elect Biden’s inauguration looks good at this time, my advice as a meteorologist is to always watch the evolving information. Do not anchor decisionmaking in stale weather information.

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