Mother Nature Waits for No One

When it comes to weather for presidential inaugurations, second time around isn't always the charm.

Indeed, Ronald Reagan (search) and Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to set weather records on the days of their second oath takings — and not good-weather records either.

As preparations forge ahead for President Bush (search) to be sworn in for the second time Thursday, officials and spectators alike no doubt hope to avoid the cold, snow and rain that plagued those two predecessors.

Bitter cold forced Reagan to cancel his inaugural parade and move the ceremonies indoors.

It was 4 degrees below zero on the morning of Jan. 21, 1985, and by noon the outdoor reading was still just 7 degrees. The high for the day was 17 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt in the range of minus 10 to minus 20.

Roosevelt's second inauguration — of four — was also the first time a president was sworn in in January.

Before that, the official date had been March 4, but the date was changed to speed up the transition to a new administration.

Weather had been a factor in choosing the new date and a study of records showed Jan. 20 was less likely to be stormy than March 4.

Not that year!

Jan. 20, 1937, still holds the rainfall record for any Jan. 20 in Washington, with 1.77 inches. Following sleet and freezing rain in the morning, nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain poured down between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Roosevelt rode back to the White House in an open car, which accumulated a half-inch of water on the floor by the time he arrived to watch the parade slog by.

Nebraska Sen. George W. Norris, who had spearheaded the effort to change the date, refused to be the scapegoat for the frightful conditions.

"They're trying to blame this one on me. You can't charge this up to me until March 4 when you see what kind of day that is," Norris said, according to historian David M. Ludlum's book "The Weather Factor."

March 4, 1937, turned out to be a wonderful day, 67 degrees and sunny.

There have been other less than lovely second inaugurals. For William McKinley in 1901 it rained overnight and then resumed during the ceremony; a biting wind and blowing snow greeted Grover Cleveland in 1893; in 1873, a windy, bitter cold day — still Washington's coldest March day on record — faced Ulysses S. Grant.

On the other hand, it had rained for two days before and right up to the ceremony for Abraham Lincoln's second swearing-in in 1865 — but then the sun broke through.

There have also been mild days to launch second terms: It was a pleasant 34 degrees and partly sunny for President Clinton (search) in 1997; in 1973, a cloudy but mild day at 43 degrees greeted Richard Nixon; it was 44 degrees, though there was light snow on the ground, for Dwight Eisenhower in 1957.

Probably the most disastrous inaugural occurred in 1841. It was a cloudy, cold day when William Henry Harrison took the oath. After giving a one-hour, 40-minute speech he rode horseback to the White House without a coat. Harrison developed pneumonia and died just a month later.

Cold and heavy snow faced Franklin Pierce in 1853, including during the ceremony. Abigail Fillmore, wife of outgoing President Millard Fillmore, developed pneumonia and died within weeks.

Ten inches of snow and cold winds forced William Howard Taft's ceremony indoors in 1909. The storm toppled trees and utility poles, stalled trains and brought the city to a halt. It took 6,000 men and 500 wagons to clear 58,000 tons of snow from the parade route, according to files from the National Weather Service.

In 1961, eight inches of snow fell on the eve of John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Thousands of cars were abandoned on the streets and the airports were closed, preventing former President Herbert Hoover from attending the ceremony. According to the Weather Service, an army of men worked all night to clear Pennsylvania Avenue for the parade, held in 22-degree temperature and a biting wind that made it feel like zero.