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How weather weaves through a centuries-long American tradition

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The first presidential inauguration took place in 1789 and from the start, weather has played a key role.

One man, two records:

Ronald Reagan's first inauguration was a warm one, with noon-time temperatures in the middle 50s. To this day, it remains the warmest January inauguration day in American history.

The only other instance where temperatures were this warm occurred in 1913, when inaugurations were held in early March.

Reagan's second inauguration stood in stark contrast to his first. Bitter cold visited the Nation's Capital in the days leading up to his second swearing-in in 1985. Temperatures at noon were in the single digits, with lows earlier that morning below-zero.

Wind chills during the afternoon of Reagan's second inauguration were in the range of 10 to 20° below zero. The combination of dangerous cold and biting wind led to the cancellation of the outdoor inaugural parade, where nearly 350,000 people were expected to gather. A celebration was held indoors, with a few thousand people in attendance.

A potentially deadly speech:

William Henry Harrison took the highest oath of office on March 4, 1841. His speech, lasting approximately an hour and forty minutes, remains the longest inaugural speech in American history.

Unofficial records from the time indicate weather was chilly and blustery. All 8,400 words of his long-winded speech were spoken without coat, gloves, or hat.

After spending the better part of the day of his inauguration outdoors, he fell ill with a cold just a few weeks later. This cold eventually turned into something more serious - pneumonia.

Just one month after his inauguration, President William H. Harrison died of pneumonia. Harrison was the first president to die in office and his term remains the shortest in American political history.

Justin Ballard

Justin Ballard joined 13 WREX as the weekday morning meteorologist. He’s a proud graduate of UNC-Charlotte and happy to call Rockford home.

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