Inauguration Day weather extremes of the past


Historically-speaking, the average weather during the time of the inauguration is partly cloudy skies, highs in the upper 30s with light wind. But that hasn’t always been the case…. so I went back to look at some of the extreme weather for past swearing-in ceremonies.

The warmest Inauguration ever was during President Ronald Reagan’s first term in 1981. During the ceremony, the temperature was 55 degrees under mostly cloudy skies. There was an eventual high that day of 56 degrees.

The coldest was just four years later during President Reagan’s second inauguration. That morning the low was 4 below with a temperature at ceremony time of just seven above. It was so cold that the swearing-in ceremony was held indoors and the parade was canceled.

Just over an inch and three-quarters of rain set a record for January 20th and made President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 swearing-in ceremony the wettest to date. It was just 33 degrees so it was a cold rain. President Roosevelt insisted on riding back to the White House after the ceremony in an open car in spite of the rain. There was half an inch of rain on the floorboards during that ride.

The snowiest swearing-in ceremony was for President William H. Taft in 1909… 9.8″ of snow fell that day and most of the ceremony had to be held indoors due to the very strong wind and cold conditions.

The most snow on the ground during a ceremony goes to President John F. Kennedy in 1961. A major snowstorm dumped eight inches of fresh snow the night before his swearing-in. The glare from that fresh snow was snow bright that Robert Frost had difficulty reading a poem… so he instead recited one from memory.

Official weather records for Washington D.C. didn’t begin until 1871. So while we don’t have accurate data for the conditions, the most tragic weather-related outcome of an inauguration was from 1841. According to the National Weather Service, President William Henry Harrison stood in the cold and gave a speech for one hour and forty minutes. He wasn’t properly dressed and he fell ill and died one month later after developing pneumonia.

This year, while a little wind, Joe Biden’s Inauguration may go down in history, but necessary because of weather.

The swearing-in ceremonies weren’t always held in Washington. George Washington was sworn in in New York City – the Capitol wasn’t built yet. For his second term, he was inaugurated in Philadelphia… that’s also where John Adams was sworn in.

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