(This post has been updated.)
The District’s average high temperature on Jan. 20 is 43 degrees; the average low is 28. At noon – when Trump will raise his right hand – temperatures typically hover around 37 degrees with a wind chill slightly below freezing, according to records kept by the National Weather Service.
Most January Inauguration Days have been colder than these averages suggest, however. Since 1937, temperatures recorded on all inaugurations show an average high of 40.5 degrees and an average low of 26.9 degrees.
Until 1937 the inauguration wasn’t held until March 4 (or March 5 if the 4th fell on a Sunday). Yet many of those March presidential inaugurations were nearly as cold, if not colder, than our modern-day January events.
Warmer inaugurations typically favor incoming Republican presidents. Even when we include President Ronald Reagan’s frigid second inaugural in the numbers, the swearing-in ceremony has averaged about 6 degrees warmer for Republican presidents than for Democratic ones (since 1937, nine of the 20 inaugurals were for Republican administrations, so the sample is about equal).
Wettest and snowiest
For the thousands of visitors packing the National Mall on Inauguration Day, precipitation is usually less of a spoiler than cold temperatures. The National Weather Service says there is about a 1 in 3 chance of measurable precipitation in the nation’s capital on Jan. 20. Odds of measurable snow are smaller, with a 10 percent chance of at least 0.1 inch of snow accumulation.
The wettest inauguration ceremony was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. A total of 1.77 inches of rain fell that day (a record for Jan. 20), in what the NWS describes as a washout:
Two hundred thousand visitors came to Washington for the inauguration… It was a cold rainy day… Between 11 am and 1 pm, 0.69 inches of rain fell. The ceremony began at 12:23 pm. The noon temperature was 33°F. At the president’s insistence, he rode back to the White House in an open car with a half an inch of water on the floor. Later, he stood for an hour and a half in an exposed viewing stand watching the inaugural parade splash by in the deluge.
The 1937 inauguration was the only time that more than an inch of rain fell on the date of the ceremony. Fortunately, subsequent presidential inaugurations were comparatively tame – until 1961 when a major snowstorm dumped 8 inches of snow in the nation’s capital the night before President John F. Kennedy took office.
Though most of the snow fell on Jan. 19, the 1961 inauguration holds the record for “most snow on the ground” out of all the January ceremonies.
The snowiest inauguration: not in January
Kennedy’s inauguration was notable for its last-minute snow removal efforts along Pennsylvania Avenue, but it wasn’t officially the snowiest presidential inauguration. That distinction belongs to the inauguration of President William H. Taft in 1909, when 9.8 inches of snow fell the day of the ceremony.
The 1909 ceremony was one of many early March inaugurations with cold comparable to what we see in January today. The second-coldest inauguration (other than 1985) was the second swearing-in of President Ulysses S. Grant on March 4, 1873. The low temperature was a bone-chilling 4 degress, with a high that day of 20 degrees.
In its historical summary, the NWS writes:
During the day, bitterly cold winds gusted up to 40 mph. By noon, the temperature had risen to 16°F. Wind chill temperatures were -15° to -30°F. Cadets and midshipmen had been standing on the mall for more than an hour and a half without overcoats. Several of them collapsed. When the president delivered his inaugural address, the wind made his words inaudible to even those on the platform with him.
To this day, the 1873 inauguration remains Washington’s coldest March day on record.
Inauguration weather before 1873
Since official government weather records for Washington, D.C., did not begin until 1871, weather conditions during presidential inaugurations before then are based on unofficial reports. The most dramatic and tragic conditions occurred in 1841, according to the National Weather Service. In blustery weather, President William Henry Harrison delivered a one hour and 40 minute speech and rode to and from the U.S. Capitol without a hat or overcoat. He died just one month later after developing pneumonia.
NWS has a list of anecdotal weather reports for all inaugurations dating back to George Washington. It’s worth a read, for history buffs and weather enthusiasts alike.
Below is a recap of the stats discussed above:
1937-2013 January Inaugurations
Average temp: 33.7°
Average high: 40.5°
Average low: 26.9°
Coldest low: -4° in 1985
Coldest high: 17° in 1985
Warmest high: 56° in 1981
Wettest: 1.77” of rain in 1937
Snowiest: 1.2” in 1945
Average snowfall: 0.12”
1873-1933 March Inaugurations
Average temp: 37.0°
Average high: 43.5°
Average low: 30.6°
Coldest low: 4° in 1873
Coldest high: 20° in 1873
Warmest high: 58° in 1885 and 1913
Wettest: 0.86” of rain in 1889
Snowiest: 9.8” in 1909
This post was originally published in 2013 and was updated with data through 2017.