Hottest Topic: How Cold?

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It drenched Franklin D. Roosevelt, drove Ronald Reagan indoors and might have hastened William Henry Harrison to his grave.

It frosted Grover Cleveland's mustache and reportedly froze Ulysses S. Grant's dinner turkeys waiting in an unheated building.

It is Inauguration Day weather, and for the next seven days it will be much on the minds of inaugural planners, participants and spectators.

So far, the forecast looks okay: Most agencies are calling for sunny weather, or partly so, with highs in the 30s.

But there is a weather system way out in the northern Pacific Ocean, according to AccuWeather, which might or might not come this way Monday and might or might not bring snow. "A lot of things could happen between now and then," senior meteorologist Tom Kines said.

Indeed, a week is a long way out, weather-wise, and the National Weather Service is only this afternoon issuing its first official forecast briefing to inauguration officials.

James E. Lee, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office in Sterling, said there will be a teleconference at 3 p.m. for the Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government and inauguration officials.

Until today, the inauguration forecast has been handled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Prediction Center, which does more general longer-term forecasting.

Jon Gottschalck, head of the climate prediction center's forecast operations, said its final inauguration forecast yesterday called for below-average temperatures, probably in the mid-30s, and little threat of precipitation.

He said the center utilizes weather history and numerical weather models to make its forecasts, although the models, which use global weather data and equations, are less reliable more than seven days out.

"When you get within seven days, those model forecasts historically get much better," he said.

As for the snow, Gottschalck said some models suggest it, and others don't. "Right now, there doesn't look like there'll be any large storms for Inauguration Day," he said.

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