The Coldest Inauguration Day In History? It Took Place More Than 30 Years Ago

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On Jan. 2o, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, assuming his place in American history at the western front of the U.S. Capitol building. The presidential inauguration is a spectacle that's been seen many times before, and if you've ever watched one ― like either of President Obama's, perhaps ― then you likely know the drill, from an aesthetic standpoint at least. But sometimes, the forces of nature intervene: ever wonder which inauguration day was the coldest in U.S. history? And what happens if the conditions are prohibitively frigid this time around?

Make no mistake, holding a huge outdoor ceremony in Washington, D.C. in late January is a huge gamble as far as weather is concerned, and it tends to be a chilly affair. Back in 2009, the first Obama inauguration inauguration suffered through below-freezing temperatures of just 28 degrees Fahrenheit, the lowest since 1985.

And in 1985 ― the second inauguration of Republican icon Ronald Reagan ― the temperature clocked in at an unthinkably frosty seven degrees, the lowest ever on record for the ceremony. It must have been a pretty grim scene, especially considering that Reagan enjoyed such a temperate first inauguration day ― his 1981 swearing-in was the warmest ever on record, at 51 degrees.

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WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20: Hundreds of thousands gather on the National Mall prior to the start of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama will be sworn in as the first African-American president of the U.S. (Photo by Thomas Meneguin/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images)

This, of course, raises an obvious question: what do you do if you wake up on inauguration day and it's seven degrees out? That's well below the level that you can reasonably ask people to soldier through, much less subject the 73-year-old Reagan to on occasion of his reelection. And while Trump is a few years younger at 70, enduring sustained below-freezing temperatures aren't exactly advisable for people of any age.

The answer, in 1985 at least, was to scuttle the entire outdoor parade plan in favor of an indoor ceremony, a decision that must have been hugely frustrating to everyone who planned the big day, but a necessary one nonetheless. Rather than take the oath of office outside the building, Reagan did so inside the Capitol rotunda, trading a large-scale outdoors celebration for something decidedly warmer, safer, and more manageable.

It remains to be seen whether a similarly untenable chill falls over Trump's inauguration, although there would certainly be some poetic justice in it. For months, the Trump presidential campaign seemed like the political manifestation of that old, cliche line about hell freezing over. Of course, it's impossible to say at this early date what the forecast will be, but if you're curious as the big day draws near, you can always check out what the National Weather Service is saying.