Updated at: 01/19/2013 12:07 PM
By SETH BORENSTEIN
(AP) WASHINGTON - Consider it the first fact check of a Barack Obama campaign pledge for his second term: Will he, or Mother Nature, deliver on promised warmer Inauguration Day weather?
It’s shaping up as a close call.
In September, while campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama’s bone-chilling first inaugural in 2009, when the noontime temperature was 28 degrees. Obama promised: "This one is going to be warmer."
Scientifically, the president doesn’t have control of day-to-day weather. While his policies can lessen or worsen future projected global warming on a large scale, they cannot do anything about Washington’s daily temperature on Jan. 21.
Still, it’s a promise that for a long time looked close to a sure thing. The history of local weather was on Obama’s side.
On average, the normal high is 43 degrees and the normal low is 28, but that’s just around dawn. There have been 19 traditional January inaugurations and only two were colder. Ronald Reagan’s second in 1985 was a frigid 7 with subzero wind chills and John F. Kennedy’s in 1961 was a snow-covered 22. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration also was 28.
Then there was the general warming trend Washington had been stuck in. The last time the nation’s capital stayed below freezing all day was Jan. 22, 2011. The city has gone a record 700-plus days since it had 2 inches or more of snow.
An Arctic cold front looks to be racing toward the mid-Atlantic, so it will be cooler than normal on Monday, but probably not cooler than 2009, said Nikole Listemaa, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that oversees forecasts for the capital area.
Look for highs around 40 degrees with noon temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s, Listemaa said Saturday. That would keep Obama’s pledge.
There’s also a 30 percent chance of light snow showers for Monday. But the Arctic cold front won’t arrive until Monday night into Tuesday, Listemaa added.
Extreme cold on Inauguration Day, folklore says, can be a killer.
In 1841, newly elected president William Henry Harrison stood outside without a coat or hat as he spoke for an hour and 40 minutes. He caught a cold that day and it became pneumonia and he died one month after being sworn in.
Twelve years later, outgoing first lady Abigail Fillmore got sick from sitting outside on a cold wet platform as Franklin Pierce was inaugurated and she died of pneumonia at the end of the month. Doctors now know that pneumonia is caused by germs, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather may hurt the airways and make someone more susceptible to getting sick.
There’s one thing Washington’s history shows. Bad weather generally creates bad traffic jams.
Kennedy found that out in his 1961 inauguration when 8 inches of snow fell overnight and crippled the city for what at that time was Washington’s worst traffic jam. Thousands of cars were abandoned in the snow.
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)