Air Force One landing at night. Photo by Chris Stone
Air Force One landing at night. Photo by Chris Stone

Former President Barack Obama and his family arrived in the Coachella Valley hours later than expected Friday, after weather conditions delayed their Palm Springs vacation, forcing their plane to land about 50 miles west of their destination in western Riverside County.

The Obamas attended Friday’s inauguration of President Donald Trump, then departed from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland at about 10:45 a.m. Pacific time on the same plane that Obama used as president, although it’s not called Air Force One unless Trump rides in it.

Then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday that Obama “vowed to take his family to a destination that is warmer than Washington, D.C.” on Friday, but some uncharacteristically rainy weather made their approach into Palm Springs International Airport untenable.

The weather forced the plane to divert to March Air Reserve Base near Riverside just before 6 p.m., about two and a half hours after they were scheduled to land in Palm Springs.

California greeted the Obamas with the second of a trio of thunderstorms expected to strike the region this week.

The first thunderstorm arrived in the area Wednesday night, with a second storm raining down upon the city this afternoon, when the National Weather Service predicted the heaviest rains were to fall.

Scattered showers were forecast through Saturday, preceding a third storm set to move in Sunday, with its heaviest rains coming in the evening.

Crowds in Palm Springs gathered outside the runway perimeter to catch a glimpse of the now-former first family and the plane, but spent much of the gloomy afternoon peering up through the clouds while the aircraft circled for nearly an hour before being forced westward.

Police blocked off roads surrounding the airport to create a route for the Obamas’ motorcade to smoothly exit the airport, though their efforts were ultimately for naught.

At about 8 p.m., the motorcade arrived at the Thunderbird Heights gated community in Rancho Mirage. The Obamas are expected to stay at the home of outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos and his husband, interior designer Michael Smith, who’s been the White House decorator since 2008. Obama has stayed at the home four times during his presidency.

The visit is likely to give new life to rumors circulating for years that the Obamas plan to buy a home at Thunderbird Heights, although Obama administration officials, including the former president, have not committed to anything more than a short trip to the desert, for now.

Obama tweeted this afternoon that he and his wife were “off on a quick vacation, then we’ll get back to work,” while Earnest said earlier this week that “The president and the first lady and their family are looking forward to getting out to Palm Springs and beginning to relax a little bit, but I don’t have any updates on their plans beyond that.”

On earlier visits to the Coachella Valley, Obama played golf with boyhood friends at courses in Palm Springs, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, but the rain expected to blanket the Coachella Valley may take one of his favorite activities off the agenda.

Officials at Sunnylands, the “Camp David of the West,” said they have not received any word regarding a potential visit to the estate, which has hosted eight presidents in the past, including Obama. He was last at Sunnylands in February for the ASEAN summit, when he met with leaders from Southeast Asia.

Anne Rowe, Sunnylands director of collections and exhibitions, said that “as a resident of the Coachella Valley, it’s an honor that, with all the choices in the world, literally, the first place he decides to visit is right here in the Coachella Valley.”

Local tourism officials weren’t too shocked that the Obamas decided to make Palm Springs their first stop, particularly with all the family’s previous visits.

“It’s obvious that the Obama are just as much in love with Palm Springs as the rest of us … who wouldn’t love sunshine and blue skies in the winter?” said Mary Jo Ginther, director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, speaking to the city’s more typical weather patterns.

“The Obama family’s visits to Palm Springs have generated a lot of great press, and we look forward to having them visit many more times in the future.”

–City News Service

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