Obama’s 40-Degree Inaugural Day — History Dictates a Heavy Top Coat

Photograph by Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Cristina Castro, 23, of New York, wraps up against the cold while waiting to enter the Capitol to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama.

The real inauguration will play out indoors.

The outdoor celebration the next day will be chilling.

President Barack Obama’s second term actually starts at noon Sunday, on the date and time demanded by the Constitution. The president will have Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. in for an intimate swearing-in at the White House.

The celebration the public sees outside the U.S. Capitol, on Monday, a federal holiday commemorating the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., won’t be quite so warm.

What’s normal for this date in Washington is a high of 43 degrees Farenheit, and a low of 28, according to the National Weather Service.

The new normal, lately, has been a lot colder.

Ronald Reagan’s second swearing-in, in 1985, set the record. It was 7 degrees outside at noon, with a wind-chill of minus 10 to minus 20 that day, so he took the oath indoors, and the inaugural parade was canceled.

(Reagan already had set another record: His first inauguration, in 1981, was the warmest in history, with a balmy noontime temp of 55.)

It was below freezing for Obama’s first inauguration, in 2009 — 28 degrees at noon. It was just above freezing for both of George W. Bush’s inaugurations, in 2001 and 2005 — 35 and 36 degrees.

Of course, they all had it easy — compared with President William Henry Harrison, sworn into office on a cold and blustery day in 1841.

Harrison talked for an hour and 40 minutes and rode horseback to and from the Capitol without a hat or overcoat. He caught a cold, which turned to pneumonia, and died a month later.

It’s not always dry, either. William Taft was sworn into office in 1909 with 9.8 inches of snow on the ground. Almost two inches of rain fell on the day of Franklin Roosevelt’s second inauguration, in 1937.

There’s a one-in-six chance of precipitation this time around, and also a one-in-20 chance of snow during the outdoor ceremony.

There’s also a one-in-six chance that there will be at least one inch of snow already on the ground.

Though the practical forecast is cheerier: A high of 40 on Monday, and most likely dry, the day that Obama delivers his final inaugural address.

He’ll be the first president since Roosevelt, as we’ve noted before, to be sworn in four times. Obama took two oaths in 2009, after Roberts botched the first one outdoors and delivered a rerun indoors, and Obama is taking two this year. Roosevelt actually was elected four times, which is no longer possible under the 22nd Amendment (ratified in 1951).

(This follows a certain line of Republican thinking: It’ll be a cold day in Washington when Obama takes his fourth oath of office.)

Expect no climatic record-setting, though, other than the general trend toward global warming which Washington largely ignores.

The White House, nevertheless, will be cranking the first fireplaces this weekend.

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