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Why Were Last Night’s Inauguration Fireworks So Amazing?

They outshined what we've seen on recent Independence Days.

Courtesy of C-Span.

In celebration of the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, there was an enormous fireworks show that could be seen (and heard) for miles throughout the city—and beyond. DC is no stranger to massive fireworks displays, but last night’s seemed especially cool. So how did the show best what we’ve seen on recent Independence Days?

According to Garden State Fireworks designer Chris Santore, who helped craft the show, the relative brevity of the display helped. Plus, he says, the sheer density of explosions was much greater than the ones in the company’s typical Capitol Fourth creations. In just four minutes, an excess of 20,000 pieces were set off from locations at West Potomac Park (near the Lincoln Memorial) and the south side of the Washington Monument.

Although this week’s closure of the National Mall to the public felt rather dystopian, it did allow for an impressive, unprecedented firing setup at the Monument’s base. Since designers didn’t have to worry about accidentally blowing up say, an errant pedestrian, they could use all 1500 feet of the Monument grounds. They set up nine firing points to create what Santore describes as a “wall of explosions.”

Santore explains that the fireworks could be seen from so far away (one colleague reports seeing them in Silver Spring) because of the cold weather. Apparently, early July is terrible time for fireworks in DC. Our city’s swampy summer humidity often creates a haze, which dulls the brightness and clarity of the explosions. Last night’s dry air and light breeze kept smoke from building up. And according to the Capitol Weather Gang, a temperature inversion allowed the booms to carry for as far as 15 miles.

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.