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Conference vs. the Weather

by
R. Clayton Brough and David R. James
Geographers and Climatologists

First published in 1983
Latest update: 25 September 2012

PDF of Conference vs the Weather and weather statistics for 1888-2012

Every spring and fall, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (L.D.S. or Mormon Church) holds a church-wide "general conference" on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. The spring conference is usually held during the first week of April and is called an "annual general conference." The fall conference is generally held during the first week of October, and is referred to as a "semi-annual general conference."

During the past several decades, many conference visitors--as well as other Utah residents and the news media--have often remarked how predictable the weather is during the periods of L.D.S. general conference. In fact, during one survey that asked conference visitors what they felt "the typical weather [was] like during April general conference," some of those interviewed quoted the Mormon cliche: "When the Saints meet, the Heavens weep!"

The fact that L.D.S. general conference is often associated with wet weather is not a new perception. For example, the following statement appeared on the front cover of the Church News of April 13, 1957: "At the close of another [April] General Conference, thousands of Church members, inspired, encouraged and refreshed in faith and spirit, leave the Tabernacle grounds [in Salt Lake City] for their homes in various parts of the country. Typical 'conference weather' prevailed for the 127th annual session, showers and chill breezes alternating with warm spring sunshine throughout the week." More recently, the Church News of April 10, 1983, stated: "Year after year, at least one thing remains consistent about conference weather: it is inconsistent. Conditions on Temple Square for the 153 Annual General Conference ranged from overcast on Saturday morning, to quite pleasant Saturday afternoon, to cold Saturday evening, to miserable all day Sunday."

Just what is "typical conference weather"? Is it usually wet? And just how "pleasant" or "cold" can it get? These questions and others are answered herein--along with additional facts and information relating to the weather and climate of past L.D.S. conferences.

Early Conferences and the Weather (1830-1887)

The first "conference" of the L.D.S. Church was held on June 9, 1830, at Fayette, New York. Twenty-seven members of the Church attended this conference. From September 1831 through 1847, various spring and fall conferences were held in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. Although there is not much mentioned about the "weather" that occurred during these early conferences, some information is available. For example, during the April 6-8, 1842 conference held in Nauvoo, early members of the Church stated that "the sun shone clear, warm and pleasant. The snow has nearly all disappeared...[and] ice [is] about two feet [thick] on [the] Mississippi River."

The first spring conference that Church officials specifically termed a "general annual conference," was held on April 6-8, 1848, in a log tabernacle at Miller's Hollow in Kanesville, Iowa. Six months later, on October 8, 1848, the Church held its fall conference in Salt Lake City, and officials called this a "semi-annual general conference."

From 1849 to 1887, most annual and semi-annual general conferences were held during April and October in the Salt Lake Valley. However, there were some exceptions. For instance, the 1850 Semi-Annual General Conference was held in Salt Lake on September 6-7, so that Church members could "travel in better weather." In 1877, the April conference was held in Saint George, and between 1885 and 1887, general conferences were held in Logan, Provo and Coalville, Utah.

Later Conferences in Salt Lake City, 1888-2012

Since 1888, all annual and semi-annual general conferences in the Church have been held on or next to Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Except for one instance--when a major flu epidemic forced the cancellation of the 1957 Semi-Annual General Conference--the Church has always held an annual and semi-annual general conference each year, and these have usually been held during the first week of April and October. Two-day general conference periods began in 1977.

Analyzing the Conference Weather of Salt Lake City

In analyzing the weather of past general conferences held in Salt Lake City, it was felt that such an effort should start with the year 1888. There were two major reasons for doing this: 1) prior to 1888, general conferences were occasionally held in different areas where no recorded weather information was available, and 2) after 1887, all general conferences were held in Salt Lake City where daily precipitation and temperature data have been meticulously kept since 1885.

The daily weather data used in this study was taken from the records of the only two official observation stations of the National Weather Service for Salt Lake City. These are: 1) Downtown Salt Lake City, that covers the period of 1888 to 1950, and 2) the Salt Lake International Airport, which covers the period of 1951 to the present. Although the Downtown weather records extend through 1954, this study utilizes Airport data after 1950 so that such data could be correlated with the official 30-year climate normals of 1951-1980 and thereafter.

Although there may be some individuals who question whether such weather data should ever be compared to or quoted as "conference weather"--since such data was not recorded at the specific site of conference (i.e. on or next to Temple Square), nevertheless, over an extended period of time such data does give a reasonable climatic view of the type of weather that has occurred in the Salt Lake Valley during April and October general conferences.

Conference Precipitation

Climatological records show that during the past 124 years (1888-2012), the majority of all general conferences held in Salt Lake City--or 53% of all conferences held (or 132 out of 248) have experienced one or more days of wet weather during which measurable precipitation was recorded. However, when one divides April conferences from October conferences, one finds that April conferences usually experience wet weather (which correlates with the fact that April is the wettest month of the year in the Salt Lake Valley), while October conferences usually have dry weather. To be precise, 65% of all April conferences (or 81 out of 125) have received measurable precipitation (of more than a Trace) during one or more days that conference is held. In comparison, 59% of all October conferences (or 72 out of 123) have reported dry conditions (of .00 or only a Trace). Interestingly, the chance of receiving measurable precipitation during any day of April conference is 38%, while the chance of receiving measurable precipitation during any day of October conference is 27%.

Since 1888, the wettest conference period on record occurred on April 3-6, 1921, when 1.19 inches of precipitation (i.e.: water content) fell during the four days of conference. The wettest single conference day was on October 10, 1920, when 1.15 inches of precipitation fell.

The snowiest conference period was on April 2-6, 1955, when 12.9 inches of snow fell, and the snowiest single conference day occurred during this same conference period--when 9.6 inches of snow was recorded on April 2, 1955.

In contrast to the above, the only time there has been any measurable snowfall during October conference was in 1971, when less than an inch (0.7") of snow was noted.

Conference Temperatures

Climatological analysis shows that October conferences are usually warmer than April conferences. For example, during October conferences, high temperatures in the Salt Lake Valley averaged about 69 °F and low temperatures averaged about 46 °F. In comparison, during April conferences high temperatures averaged about 58 °F and low temperatures averaged about 37 °F.

During the past 124 years (1888-2012), the warmest April conference day on record occurred on April 5, 1959, when the thermometer reached 82°. The coldest April conference morning on record happened on April 4, 1955, when the temperature dropped to 20°. In addition, the coldest conference period reported occurred on April 5-7, 1929, when high temperatures only averaged 41°, and low temperatures averaged 25°. It also snowed each of the three days of this April conference, with seven inches of snow recorded in downtown Salt Lake City by the time conference was over.

The warmest October conference days recorded during the past 124 years (1888-2012), occurred on October 7, 1979 and on October 2, 2012, when the temperature climbed to 88°. The coldest October conference morning on record happened on October 4, 1890, when the mercury fell to 30°. Also, the warmest conference period on record occurred on October 2-3, 2010, when high temperatures averaged 87°.

One of the biggest temperature changes ever experienced during one conference period occurred during the Semi-Annual General Conference of October 7-9, 1960. The first day of that conference had a warm high temperature of 83°, the next day had a cool high of 60°, and the third and last day had a chilly high of only 41°--along with some light snowfall.

Conference Clouds, Wind and Humidity

During the past 61 years (1951-2012), April conferences have usually been held under partly cloudy to cloudy skies, while October conferences have generally seen mostly sunny to partly cloudy skies.
In general, winds have usually been light to moderate, averaging between 5 to 20 miles-per-hour. However, when storms move through northern Utah, winds have occasionally been strong and gusty. For example, at about 7:00 pm on April 7, 1956, a cold front passed through the Salt Lake Valley, and winds gusted between 50 to 80 miles-per-hour at various valley locations. During this wind storm, one conference visitor on Temple Square stated that he felt like he was being "tossed to and fro with every gust of wind that came along."

During the hours that general conferences are usually in session, relative humidity in the Salt Lake Valley (from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during April and October) normally ranges from about 40% to 45%.

Conclusions on Conference Weather

So what is "typical conference weather"?

According to the past 124 years (1888-2012), April annual general conferences usually experience partly to mostly cloudy skies, with measurable rain or snow usually falling during at least one of the days in which conference is in session. Morning temperatures are normally cold--in the mid 30's, with afternoon temperatures usually on the cool side--in the upper 50's. In essence, April general conferences are generally a time for "coat's and umbrella's."

In contrast, October semi-annual general conferences are usually mostly sunny to partly cloudy skies with dry conditions and temperatures averaging about 10 degrees warmer than April conferences. During October general conferences, morning lows average in the mid 40's, while afternoon highs average in the upper 60's. So October conferences usually enjoy pleasant fall weather.

1983, 2003, 2011 and 2012 newspaper publications about Conference vs the Weather

In the summer of 1983, R. Clayton Brough and David R. James published an in-depth study on L.D.S. conferences and the weather that occurred during these conferences. Information from this study--entitled "Conference vs the Weather"--was eventually reproduced in the L.D.S. Church News of October 2, 1983, under the front-page headline of "Weather: 50 Years at Conference Time". Also, on October 4, 2003, the Deseret News published an article entitled "Conference rain effect?"--which used information from this study; on March 28, 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article entitled "Does it really always rain on Conference weekend?"--which used information from this study; and on October 4, 2012, the Mormon Times of the Deseret News published an article entitled "Sun or storms? General conference weather patterns are consistently Inconsistent"--which also used information from this study.

PDF of Conference vs the Weather and weather statistics for 1888-2012