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Weather-wary inaugural planners to assess ceremony location Friday evening

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Presidential inaugural planners, studying wet weather predictions for Saturday's ceremony, put off until Friday evening a decision on whether to move the event inside to the Capitol rotunda.

"At this point we're leaning toward, 'it looks good that it'll be outdoors'," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the top congressional official overseeing the inaugural. "It's not a final decision. That'll not be made until this afternoon or early this evening."

Ed Gillespie, a spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said a final decision could actually be made early Saturday morning but predicted that the ceremony would take place outdoors as scheduled.

With tens of thousands of visitors expected and millions of dollars already spent on the outdoor set-up of the inauguration -- scheduled for noon on the west front of the Capitol -- planners said they were reluctant to move it into the cramped rotunda, which would be standing-room-only with just a few hundred VIPs in attendance.

Tamara Sommerville, an aide on the Joint Congressional Committee said the planning thus far has been for an outdoor event with 200,000 invited spectators. A move indoors would bring that list down to 1,000.

National Weather Service computer models predicted temperatures around 35 degrees with a light, intermittent drizzle at the constitutionally appointed hour that President-elect George W. Bush is sworn in. One official said it was highly unlikely that a heavy downpour or a dangerous sleet storm would show up in the forecast before this evening's assessment is made.

"We'd rather have snow than rain," McConnell said in an interview with CNN, explaining that traction for high-heeled ticket-holders would be better in the snow than in the mud or on ice-coated sidewalks.

President Ronald Reagan's second inaugural ceremony in 1985 was moved into the rotunda due to frigid weather. The inaugural parade was also canceled when organizers feared school-aged trumpeters would get their lips stuck to their instruments.

Organizers for the Bush inaugural were also assessing what, if any, affect the weather might have on the Saturday afternoon parade.

Another weather consideration: umbrellas. One planner familiar with inaugural protocol said dignitaries with seats on the temporary platform where Bush is sworn-in would not be able to hold umbrellas because they will block the views of fellow VIPs. Thousands of ticket-holders in front of the stage -- and the media who will be chronicling the event -- will be able to use umbrellas.

"There will be a lot of wet heads on the stage," the planner said. "Except for George Bush; they'll hold an umbrella over him."


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Friday, January 19, 2001


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