How weather has impacted inauguration days throughout US history

Presidential inaugurations have seen everything from bitter cold to spring-like warmth

Taft & Roosevelt driving to Capitol, Mar. 4, 1909 (George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress))

Inauguration Day is historic for obvious reasons and Wednesday promises to be no different. When Joe Biden gets sworn in, he’ll be doing so with a few snow flurries in the forecast and temperatures near 40 degrees. That falls in between some of the extremes seen on Inauguration Day in Washington D.C. It’s also fair to say that weather has had a big impact on the historic event. The first inauguration held outside occurred in 1817 when President James Monroe was sworn into office.

Inaugurations, prior to 1933, were held in or around March 4th. After that, Inauguration Day was moved to January 20th. So with that in mind, here’s a look at the averages courtesy of the National Weather Service Baltimore/Washington for the nation’s capital on the big day:

Averages:

  • Average temperature during inauguration ceremonies: 43°
  • Precipitation has occurred on about 33% of Inauguration Days
  • Snowfall occurs about 10% of the time
  • 17% of inaugurations have taken place with snow already on the ground

Considering the chance of snow will be very small on Wednesday, this Inauguration Day appears to be fairly average. Historically, however, there have been some rather significant extremes.

Extremes:

  • Warmest (for January 20th): 1981, Ronald Reagan, 55°
  • Warmest (for March 4th): 1793, George Washington, unofficially 61° in Philadelphia
  • Warmest (non-traditional date): August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford, 89°
  • Coldest (for January 20th): 1985, Ronald Reagan, 7° (the inauguration had to be held indoors, with wind chill values ranging from -20° to -10°!)
  • Coldest (for March 4th): 1873, Ulysses S. Grant, 16° (winds gusted to 40 mph and were so strong, few could hear the president)
  • Snowiest: 1909, William H. Taft, 9.8″ of snowfall
  • Rainiest: 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1.77″ of cold rain was recorded on the date
Taft & Roosevelt driving to Capitol, Mar. 4, 1909

Cold weather and sickness

In addition to the extremes, the weather has also been connected to sickness on Inauguration Day. In 1841, President William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a cold and blustery day. After a speech that lasted over an hour and a half, he rode a horse to the Capitol without a coat. He would later develop a lingering cold that transitioned into pneumonia. He would die a month later. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce endured heavy snow as he gave his inaugural address. After sitting on the cold, wet, exposed stage, the outgoing president’s wife, Abigail Fillmore, developed a cold. It would also turn into pneumonia and Fillmore died at the end of the month.

William Henry Harrison
Abigail Fillmore, Late 19th Century

Wednesday’s Forecast

Inauguration Day forecast (Copyright 2020 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

About the Author:

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News.