I like it when Steve Russo of the East KY Science Center shares these. This is another great read.
SWEARING IN (not at the) WEATHER
On January 21st, we inaugurate Barack Obama as President of the United States. If things go
according to plan, it will probably rain, maybe with a mix of snow, and chilly.
No, I didn't check my computer, Doppler Radar or the Weather Channel, and it was too early to
speak to Punxsutawney Phil down in Pennsylvania. I'm using past Inauguration Days as a clue.
Here is a bit of history about the weather of past Inauguration Days, which has not always had
the best of weather conditions.
Of the past 18 Inauguration Days, since the date was changed from March 4th to January 20th,
only Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1945), and John F. Kennedy's, (1961), were invaded by heavy rain
or snow. There were some cold days, such as the "swearing in" of Presidents Nixon (1969) and
Carter (1977) and the Inauguration of Ronald Reagan (1985) was the coldest Inauguration in
history. Since the 20th was on a Sunday, he was sworn in on Monday, when the temperature
was only seven degrees, with a wind chill of around 20 below zero. His parade was cancelled
and the ceremony moved inside.
Believe it or not, all of these cold weather January dates, had better weather than the March
dates before the change in 1937. Before that time, rain, snow, or very bitter temperatures
were present on about half of the Inauguration Days, and in at least two cases, it lead directly
to the deaths of a President and a former First Lady.
The first seven Inauguration days took place indoors; with the first outdoor one being James
Monroe's in 1817. The first "bad weather swearing in" was with Monroe's second term in 1821,
the first time an Inauguration was moved to a Monday. The temperature was 28 degrees
and the snow did end by noon. However the crowd was soggy and uncomfortable. The next
presidential swearing in was that of John Quincy Adams (1825), an amateur meteorologist (like
Thomas Jefferson), and during his ceremony, he was actually taking rainfall measurements.
Extremely cold temperatures moved the ceremonies indoors for Andrew Jackson (1833) as it
was 28 degrees, but William Henry Harrison decided to brave the cold in 1841. He refused to
ride in a closed carriage, and refused to wear a coat or hat while riding a horse in the parade.
He developed a cold, which led to pneumonia, and he slipped into a coma. A month later, he
became the first President to die in office.
Polk (1845), Grant (1869), Benjamin Harrison (1889), Herbert Hoover (1929), and McKinley
(1901), all took their Presidential Oath's in the pouring rain, while snow made a mess of the
Inaugurations of Pierce (1853), Garfield (1881), Cleveland (1893), and Taft in 1909. During
Taft’s inauguration, 10 inches of snow fell! During the "swearing in" of Pierce, former First Lady
Abigail Fillmore caught a cold, which developed into pneumonia, and she died by the end of
Abraham Lincoln had two very different ceremonies. During the first one in 1861, the wind
swept streets were dusty and people could hardly see or breathe, while his second ceremony in
1865 was in the rain and mud. While Ulysses S. Grant spent his first "swearing in" in the rain
in 1869, his second one in 1873 took place in sixteen degree cold. Several West Point Cadets
actually froze to death during the ceremony.
Due to all of the bad weather that had taken place on Inauguration Day, it was decided in 1937
to change the ceremonies from March 4th to January 20th, when there was less of a chance
for extremely bad weather; for most of the time it has worked. The first Inauguration Day
after the change was that for the second term (1945) of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was
the wettest Inauguration Day in history, as almost two inches of rain fell on the ceremony. By
contrast, on March 4th, it was sunny with a temperature of 67 degrees!
The two inaugurations of Bush (2001 and 2005), were snow, and just above freezing,
respectively, and the last inauguration of Obama (2009), it was 28 degrees with a wind chill in
By contrast, the warmest inauguration days in history took place for George Washington who
was inaugurated during 58 and 61 degrees in 1789 and 1793 respectively.
So I guess no matter what we do, "Mother Nature" will always have her final say, and
apparently, she likes a wet Inauguration Day!
Until next time, "Look to the Skies!!!!"
Steven LJ Russo
Director, East Kentucky Science Center & Planetarium
Big Sandy Community and Technical College
One Bert T. Combs Drive
Prestonsburg, KY 41653
Find us on Facebook at “East Kentucky Science Center and Planetarium”