NOAA 2001-010
Contact: Pat Viets


Will Inauguration Day 2001 be as cold as the record low 7 degrees that chilled Ronald Reagan as he took the oath for his second term? Or will it be as cold and windy as in 1841 when William Henry Harrison tragically caught a cold and died just one month later? From turmoil to tragedy, get all of the Presidential Inauguration Day weather facts at a new Web site from NOAA's National Weather Service at: (Click on Inauguration Weather.)

"With the eyes of the nation focused on the upcoming Inauguration, thoughts naturally turn to the weather," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service. "Thankfully, we are not expecting a repeat of President Reagan's second-term Inauguration or President Taft's 1909 Inauguration, which was forced indoors by 10 inches of snow," Kelly said.

Looking at statistics for every Jan. 20 since 1950, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., says precipitation has occurred in Washington more than 50 percent of the time. However, during the past 51 years, when precipitation fell on Jan. 20, nearly 90 percent of the time it was one-half inch or less. Snow fell in only about one in four years, with accumulations of one inch or less more than 80 percent of the time. The maximum snowfall on Jan. 20 since 1950 was 3.8 inches in 1975.

Inauguration Days don't seem to fare much better or worse than the average Jan. 20, and the Web site highlights the many weather vagaries faced by our commanders in chief. It covers George Washington's New York ceremony—cool and clear, temperature 59 degrees—to FDR's washout of 1.7 inches of rain in 1937, to the sunny and pleasant day greeting William Jefferson Clinton's first day as chief executive.

With more than 210 years of history, the United States has a surplus of Inauguration Days with turbulent weather, including the snowstorm that saw outgoing first lady Abigail Fillmore catch a cold as she sat on the freezing, wet, exposed platform during the 1853 swearing-in ceremony of Franklin Pierce. The cold developed into pneumonia and sadly she died at the end of the month. In 1961, eight inches of snow caused the worst traffic jam for its time on the eve of President Kennedy's Inauguration. President Reagan, who survived the coldest Inauguration ever, also had the warmest, at 55 degrees, for a January event. Gerald Ford's August 1973 ceremony remains the warmest at 89 degrees.

Statistically, chances for a clear day with sunshine are about 33 percent. The sky over Washington on Jan. 20 for the past 51 years has been sunny 33 percent of the time, partly cloudy 33 percent of the time, and cloudy 33 percent of the time. The actual conditions may vary from these statistics. Precipitation on inauguration day will depend on the actual weather pattern during that time.

You can monitor NOAA's National Weather Service Web site for Washington weather forecasts as the Jan. 20 Inauguration Day approaches.

The historical Web site, the work of NWS Baltimore-Washington Forecast Office Warning Coordination Meteorologist Barbara Watson, covers many weather facts and includes photographs of some of the more dreary ceremonies—a must-see for the presidential weather buff!

The maximum and minimum temperatures for Washington since 1940 are online at: (Click on access data).