Air Force One landing at night. Photo by Chris Stone
The plane that is called Air Force One when the president is on board. Photo by Chris Stone

Barack Obama woke up Saturday to his first full day as a private citizen after a trying day of Donald Trump’s inauguration and a difficult, diverted flight to Southern California that ended hours late due to weather conditions at the Palm Springs airport.

Obama and his family made the Palm Springs area their first destination after they left Washington, D.C. following the transition of power.

But the giant blue-and-white 747 that had been Air Force One when Obama was aboard as president was forced to circle for more than an hour before giving up on the Palm Springs landing site and heading to March Air Reserve Base, about 50 miles away.

The Obama motorcade then traveled that extra distance in sometimes heavy rain to an exclusive hillside area of Rancho Mirage, a few miles east of Palm Springs.

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 a sitting president is on board.

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.

California greeted the Obamas with the second of a trio of thunderstorms expected to strike the region this week, and while skies were clear Saturday morning in Palm Springs, there were heavy winds and the possibility of showers throughout the day with cool temperatures barely getting to 60 degrees.

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

Scattered showers were forecast through Saturday with heavy winds, so it’s not clear if the former president will be able to play golf. A third storm is set to move in Sunday, with its heaviest rains coming in the evening.

Crowds Friday 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 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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