Just before the official ceremony to swear in President Joe Biden on Wednesday, snow flurries fell from the sky.
Snowfall during an inauguration seldom happens, but it isn’t completely out of the forecast.
It’s winter in Washington D.C., and in the Mid-Atlantic states that means Nor’Easters and Alberta Clippers are the norm, often bringing frigid temperatures, subzero wind chills and snow.
From 1789 to 1817, there were seven presidential inaugurations that took place indoors, out of the winter elements.
On March 4, 1817, James Madison became the first president to take the oath of office outdoors. Unofficial weather records show at noon that day it was around 50 degrees and sunny. Official government weather records began in 1871.
Originally, Inauguration Day was held March 4. According to the Library of Congress, it was to give ample time after Election Day for officials to gather election returns and for those newly elected officials to travel to the capital.
Keep in mind, this meant horse-and-carriage travel during the winter. In fact, in 1841 William Henry Harrison rode to and from the ceremony on horseback without a hat or coat in 40-degree weather. He then gave the longest inauguration speech, 100-minutes long, during the brisk weather under overcast skies. About a month later, he died of pneumonia, which was said to have developed from a cold he caught during his time outdoors without proper clothing.
The coldest Inauguration Day, 16 degrees, was recorded in March 1873 during President Ulysses S. Grant’s second-term ceremony. It wasn’t until 1921 when Warren G. Harding became the first president-elect to ride to his inauguration ceremony in an automobile.
After the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933, Inauguration Day was changed to January 20 starting in 1937. Fun fact: Franklin D. Roosevelt had his first inauguration in March 1933, which was the last ceremony to be held on that date and then his second inauguration was held on the first inauguration to be held on January 20. FDR’s second Inauguration made weather history, too. A total rainfall of 1.77 inches fell that day, with temperatures around 33 degrees. Some sleet had fallen earlier that day.
Typically, the average high temperature for January inaugurations is 43 degrees, with the average temperature at noon reaching 37 degrees but often with a wind chill around 31. The NWS shows a 1 in 6 chance of 1 inch of snow already on the ground from previous snowfall during the ceremony, but the chance for snow to fall during the ceremony is a 1 in 20 chance. The flurries that took place before Biden’s ceremony was not part of that particular statistic. There’s only a 1 in 10 chance of measurable snow, at least 0.01 inches, falling on this day. The key word being measurable. There has been snow noted during presidential inaugurations.
January 20, 1961, there was 8 inches of fresh snow on the ground as President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. This wasn’t the snowiest ceremony on record. That record was set in 1909, when 9.8 inches of snow was recorded as President Taft was sworn into office.