Fifty years ago: A day to remember, the weather on the day of the MLK dream speech

August 28, 2013

Crowd at the “reflecting pool” in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. (Associated Press)

Two years ago, on the 48th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” I wrote about the weather that day (and that month). It was not at all the way it was remembered afterward.

By Washington standards, August 28, 1963 was an extremely pleasant summer day here, with temperatures ranging between 63 and 83 degrees, no rain, and dew points in the comfortable 50s.

Related: The March on Washington’s 50th anniversary (live blog)

Yet, as noted in the previous post, the media described the day as one with high temperatures and stifling humidity, with hundreds cooling off by soaking their feet in the “reflecting pool” and at least one person being carried away due to heat exhaustion (or possibly exhilaration).

But perhaps Patrik Henry Bass, in his book, Like a Mighty Stream, put it best by saying “some recall the day as one of the hottest of their lives; others thought it was a mild summer day.” It probably all depended on where you came from and your tolerance for excitement.

As mentioned in the 2011 post, the day of the march–and the month—were below normal temperature-wise here, making it the fourth coolest August (75.4 degrees) of the last 50 years.*

Also, Reagan National Airport (DCA) measured 7.21 inches of rain in August 1963, more than double its average amount, which made it the 3rd wettest August of the last 50 years,** if my limited research proves correct. Fortunately, however, little, if any, rain fell during the March period.

Looking back at 1963 weather in general, it turns out that the whole year was cooler than average. In fact, the average temperature at DCA was 55.7 degrees, 2.5 degrees below the (present-day) normal of 58.2. Since then, we’ve never had a cooler year, as average annual temperatures have ranged between 56.4 (1967 and other years) and 61.5 degrees (2012).

Today, the actual anniversary of the MLK speech, it appears that weather conditions will not be nearly so favorable as they were 50 years ago (link: latest D.C. area forecast). It will be warmer and more humid, with likely showers. But hopefully, between 11:30 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., when the The “Let Freedom Ring” Commemoration and the Call to Action Ceremony takes place, the rain will take a pause.

*The other four, in ascending order, were: 1992 (74.0 degrees); 1986 (74.6 degrees); 2000 (75.1 degrees); and 1982 (also 75.4 degrees).

**The other two, in ascending order, were: 2011 (8.92 inches); and 1967 (9.17 inches).

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Ian Livingston · August 28, 2013