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Washington D.C. Inauguration Day weather, looking at 2021 and in history

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White House(WHSV)
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 11:12 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2021 at 11:28 AM CST
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(WIFR) - January 20, 2021 marks the 59th Presidential inauguration in United States history. There have been plenty of cold ceremonies, warmer ceremonies and even some snow-filled ceremonies.

While a lot of things are different about this year’s presidential inauguration day due to the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened security, the weather is one thing that won’t be out of the ordinary for this years ceremony.

This year, forecast high temperatures look to be around 40 degrees in Washington D.C. right around the inauguration ceremony in the late morning and early afternoon hours. This is right around normal according to the National Weather Service climatology in Washington D.C/Baltimore.

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts...
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

The last two inaugurations, Donald Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2013 had very similar patterns, too according to the National Weather Service. Back in the 1980s, former President Ronald Reagan experienced both the warmest and coldest modern inauguration days.

  • Normal weather for 12 pm EST is a temperature of 37° degrees, partly cloudy skies, 10 mph wind and a wind chill of 31° degrees.
  • 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.

Before the 20th Amendment was enacted, Inauguration Day was March 4, the day of the year on which the first Congress convened after the Constitution took effect in 1789. The last inauguration to take place on March 4 was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first one in 1933. He was also the first president to take office on Jan. 20.

For non-traditional dates, the warmest inauguration day was on August 9, 1974 when Gerald Ford took office when the high hit 89 degrees.

For what the NWS calls the ‘worst weather day’ in inauguration day history, 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. You can see the former president and first lady below.

President Taft and wife returning to White House after the ceremony.
President Taft and wife returning to White House after the ceremony.(National Weather Service)

Below are the weather records from both the former March 4 and current January 20 inauguration ceremonies:

  • 1817: First outdoor inauguration. President James Monroe was sworn into office.
  • 1873: Coldest March 4th inauguration. Noon temperature was only 16 degrees with a record low temperature for March of only 4 degrees. 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 degrees.
  • 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 degrees.
  • 1961: 8 inches of fresh snow laid on the ground for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
  • 1981: Warmest January inauguration. Noon temperature was 55 degrees. 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 degrees. The morning low temperature was -4 degrees and the afternoon high was only 17 degrees. Wind chill temperatures in the afternoon were in the -10 to -20° degree range. It was Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration ceremony.

Unfortunately there have also been some tragic inauguration days with weather playing a big factor. The most recognizable in history, you have to go back to 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.

Pneumonia developed from a lingering cold he caught on that day and he died just one month...
Pneumonia developed from a lingering cold he caught on that day and he died just one month later after his inauguration ceremony.(Philadelphia Inquirer)

Another inauguration day of note was in 1853 when President Franklin Pierce was sworn into office on another cold and snowy day. Observations from the NWS says there was heavy snow in the morning and continued until right before Pierce was sworn in. 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.

At the Reagan Airport for Biden’s Inauguration just before noon, observations show a temperature of 42 degrees under mostly cloudy skies and a wind chill of 33 degrees, with more sunshine showing at the U.S. Capitol.

To see each inauguration ceremony individually, you can see all of the details here.

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