Will it rain on my Rose Parade? The rules: No Sundays, water themes, or Supreme Court Justices equals no rain

Dolphins on the Cunard float at the 2011 Showcase of Floats
Cunard float dolphins at 2011 Showcase of Floats

by Laura Berthold Monteros

There are two maxims about the Rose Parade that everyone in Pasadena knows: There’s never a parade on a Sunday, and it doesn’t rain on the parade.  Some say that the sunshiny days the Tournament of Roses has enjoyed are God smiling on the parade due to the “Never on Sunday” rule, which has held since the first time Jan. 1 fell on a Sunday in 1893 and the parade was moved to Jan. 2.  The second—well, 10 rainy days in a century-and-a-quarter isn’t a bad batting average.

What about the upcoming Rose Parade? Southern California weather forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, but here’s what we can say. It will be cold overnight and into the morning until sunup, when it might be  mild, warm, or hot. We’ve known it to shower right up to step-off at 8 a.m., when the skies open up and the California sunshine pours through, and we’ve walked around the post-parade Showcase of Floats in the rain.

The odds of rain? About one in 12, but that figure doesn’t mean much. The rainy years were closer together in the beginning, at two every 12 years: 1895, 1899, 1906, 1910, 1916, 1922, 1934, 1937. Note that the first one was only two years after the Never on Sunday rule went into effect. Then came a break of 18 years to 1955, when Chief Justice Earl Warren was the Grand Marshal, and a hiatus of a whopping 51 years to 2006, when Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was Grand Marshal. That has led some to hold a superstition regarding having Supreme Court Justices as Grand Marshals.

Most of the rainstorms have been mild, but two years brought deluges. The first was 1934, when the theme was “Tales of the Seven Seas.”  There has not been any watery themes since then. In 2006, it rained buckets with wind gusts of about 30 miles per hour. We were soaked to the bone through four layers of clothing.

If God held back in the past because of the piety of the founders, the parade of 2006 was a blow to the faith. Sure, a Supreme was the GM, but the parade was on Monday, Jan. 2 that year, postponed one day in observance of the Never on Sunday rule. Is God more upset with the high court than he is pleased with the Sunday worshipers?  Well, maybe God doesn’t really care either way.  Both 1899 and 1922 were also held on Monday, Jan. 2, so that’s a .300 batting average for rainstorm on Jan. 2 parades. That could get you a raise in Major League Baseball.

Now about those New Year’s Day Sundays: We’ve often read the statement that the Rose Parade is on Jan. 2 every seven years, and that statement hasn’t really been questioned because, after all, there are seven days in a week. In fact, in the history of the parade, New Year’s Day has never fallen on Sundays seven years apart! The typical repeating pattern of intervening years is six-five-six-eleven. The reason, of course, is that every fourth year is a leap year.  This pattern was only interrupted once, due to 1900 not being a leap year.

From 1893 to 2017, there have been 19 parades on Jan. 2. When a Jan. 2 parade occurs in a non-leap year, the parade is held on Monday two years in a row—this has happened 15 times—but when it occurs in a leap year, the next parade is on Tuesday. The reason this knowledge is useful is that you can impress your friends by quickly spouting off the dates upcoming Rose Parades will be on Jan. 2 just by using simple math.  Up to 2100, which isn’t a leap year.  But who needs to know past that?