Election Day weather varies widely from one year to the next, and pundits like to speculate how the weather might affect voter turnout. In the D.C. area, the weather won’t cause any problems for today’s presidential election – though it will be a bit cooler than in recent years.
Curious about what sort of weather conditions accompanied voters to the polls in the past? Here’s a look at Washington, D.C.’s warmest, coldest, and wettest elections since weather records began in 1871*. Though the data is specific to downtown Washington, it still gives a general idea of prevailing weather conditions across our region.
Let’s start with presidential elections:
1. 78º on 11/3/1936 (FDR v. Alf Landon)
2. 74º on 11/6/1888 (Benjamin Harrison v. Grover Cleveland)
3. 73º on 11/3/1992 (Clinton v. Bush)
Coldest (by high temperature)
1. 49º on 11/8/1960 (JFK v. Nixon)
2. 51º on 11/4/1952 (Eisenhower v. Stevenson)
3. 53º on 11/2/1976 (Carter v. Ford)
1. 0.60” on 11/4/1884 (Grover Cleveland vs. James Blaine)
2. 0.44” on 11/3/1992 (Clinton v. Bush)
3. 0.35” on 11/4/1980 (Reagan v. Carter)
Now, if we consider extremes for all Election Days in D.C. weather history, here’s the breakdown:
Warmest: 85º on 11/2/1971
Coldest: 39º on 11/8/1886 (Congressional election)
Wettest: 0.69” of rain on 11/5/2002 (Congressional election)
What about snow? While D.C. has seen accumulating snow in early November, wintry precipitation has never coincided with Election Day.
Official DC snowfall records date back to the winter of 1887-88. Since then, many minor snow events and even major snowstorms have occurred in the month of November (although fewer in recent years), but most were later in the month. The stand-out November storms, at least for Reagan National Airport (DCA) and its predecessor locations, were the following four:
* Nov. 11, 1987- 11.5” officially measured, and more in a relatively small area of Prince Georges County.
* Nov. 24-25, 1938- 7.3” officially measured.
* Nov. 30, 1967- 6.9” officially measured, with up to a foot in some suburbs in just 12 hours.
* Nov. 6, 1953- 6.7” officially measured, but up to 14 inches in Elkton, Md. and a swath of 10 to 12 inches stretching west across the northern tier of Maryland to the eastern portion of Washington County. Near blizzard conditions caused severe drifting.”
Obviously, 1953 and 1987 were the years in which snowstorms were closest to an election day and most likely, election turnout would have been seriously impeded—had there been an election, which there wasn’t.
Moreover, Presidential Election Days can only occur during the November 2-8 calendar period. Therefore, it’s clear that, of the above four storms, only the 1953 storm could have possibly fallen on Election Day—and there was no Presidential Election in 1953.
Of the 7 potential Presidential Election dates every 4 years since 1888, the above chart depicts the year of maximum snow on each of those dates. None of the years had presidential elections, however.
* Before Reagan National Airport became D.C.’s official weather station in July 1945, temperature and precipitation data were recorded downtown at 24th and M Street NW.