The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Saturday in the District was frigid, scenic and historic

One year from Inauguration Day, Washington temperatures stayed below freezing

3 min

On Saturday, the capital experienced the sort of winter day that has been long absent here, with snow on the ground, ice in the streets, a chill wind in our faces and feeling rapidly fleeing from our fingers.

In a city mindful of politics and government, it was also a historic day, January 20, the day ordained for Presidential Inaugurations. Three years from the last one, one year from the next.

It made minor meteorological history as well. It was the first day in Washington in more than a year on which the temperature never rose above the 20s.

The day’s official high temperature was 29 degrees. But that was a carry-over from Friday. Although characterized by its snows, Friday actually saw flakes fall amid temperatures warmer than Saturday’s.

Friday had seen temperatures above freezing, and some of its relative warmth seeped into Saturday’s early hours. Residual warmth, if it can be called that, gave Washington its high temperature for the day less than half an hour after midnight.

That is an odd hour for a day to be at its warmest. But the 29 degrees recorded at 12:21 a.m. was to be as high as the mercury would reach in Washington on snowbound Saturday.

It was 16 degrees below Washington’s average high temperature for Jan. 20.

After a slow descent through the subfreezing 20s, the mercury recorded a low of 22 degrees at 7:44 a.m. As of sundown, that remained the day’s low but it seemed possible that it could still go lower.

The 22-degree-low was eight degrees below average for the date.

The temperature alone obviously sufficed to make Washington wintry. But the wind made a vast contribution.

The peak wind was 28 mph. A gust of 39 was recorded. The experience of exposure to Saturday’s temperatures and Saturday’s winds can be computed. It is embodied in the wind chill temperature.

For much of Saturday, Washington wind chills resided in the teens.

At one point around 11 a.m. Saturday, being exposed to the elements was calculated to be the equivalent of being outdoors on a 9-degree day.

Of course, impatience to find shelter might have restricted opportunity to recognize the scenic beauty of a midwinter day of vivid and almost enchanted brightness.

The sun shone from an often-clear sky upon broad fields of snow, still almost as unsullied in its whiteness as the moment it fell.

Light seemed to emanate from everywhere, from the sun above, and from the snow below. It seemed to fill the air, endowing ordinary vistas with an almost magical quality.

When the wind blew, raising clouds of snowflakes from where they had rested, it gave the air a silvery sparkle.

Small patches and fragments of ice glittered on roads and walks.

And snow seemed to adhere to every branch and twig of every tree, tracing their undulating lines, contrasting with their darkness, outlining them in shimmering white.