For some reason the United States inaugurates its presidents in cold weather.

The Founding Fathers set March 4 as the beginning of the president's term, which was bad enough. William Henry Harrison was sworn in in a cold rain on March 4, 1841, came down with pneumonia and died April 4. President Grant's inaugural ball was so cold that tropical birds, imported for the event, died.But not content to do the deed in dreary March, in 1932 Congress proposed, and the states agreed in 1933, to move the date up to Jan. 20, the dead of winter.

Four years ago the temperature was below zero on inauguration morning and President Reagan mercifully moved the ceremony indoors and canceled the parade. Everyone went home disappointed but a great deal warmer than they might otherwise have been.

Generally inaugural weather has been crisp and cold. During the last five swearings-in, it has been between 18 and 25 degrees with some weak sunshine - just cold enough to be uncomfortable but not bad enough to call off the show.

The last really awful inauguration day was Jan. 20, 1961, when John F. Kennedy swore to faithfully execute the office of president. An overnight snowfall had left about 14 inches on Washington, and Army troops had been called in to help the District of Columbia clear the mess.

Those trying to get to the ceremony were as likely to be in a snowbank as sitting in their designated seats.

One thing helped late-comers. This reporter was still in a traffic jam two miles away on the 14th Street Bridge when Boston's Cardinal Cushing began the invocation. Twenty minutes later we had threaded through stalled vehicles, parked and trudged to the Capitol in time to hear the good cardinal finish his prayer.

Onlookers stood in the snow to hear Kennedy say "ask not what your country can do for you . . . "

Then the lectern caught fire while Robert Frost was reading his poem.

This year inaugural director Steve Studdert claims he has prepared for every eventuality - including snow and burning lecterns.