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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 01/28/2008

The Great Knickerbocker Snowstorm of 1922

By Kevin Ambrose

86 years ago today, the big one hit...

Digging out during the record-breaking Knickerbocker snowstorm, January 28, 1922. From NOAA Library.

When I was a young kid back in the 1970s there was a neighbor we called "Old Man Bean" who would tell us stories about an amazing snowstorm that produced drifts over 10', stopped the trains between Manassas and Clifton, Virginia, and collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater. His stories made an impression on me as a kid and fueled my interest in weather, particularly big snowstorms. Many years later, I researched the Knickerbocker Snowstorm, which still ranks as D.C.'s single largest snowstorm.

Crandall's Knickerbocker Theatre on the morning after its roof collapsed under the weight of a 28-inch snowfall, January 29, 1922. From Washingtonian Division, D.C. Public Library.

The Knickerbocker Snowstorm began during the evening of January 27, 1922 and by the morning of January 28, the snow total had reached 18 inches. By mid-afternoon, the accumulation reached a depth of 25 inches. The snow did not stop until the morning of January 29, with an official snow depth of 28 inches, a single storm snowfall record for Washington, D.C. that still stands today. A snow depth of 33 inches was measured in Rock Creek Park, three miles to the north of Washington's official weather station at that time. Temperatures were in the low-to-mid-20's during most of the storm and the liquid total of the snowfall was 3.02 inches.

The snowfall map of the Washington, D.C. area after the Knickerbocker Snowstorm.

The weight of the record-breaking snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre. The roof of the theater fell on scores of moviegoers, killing 98 and injuring 133. The disaster ranks as one of the worst in Washington's history.

Inside the Knickerbocker Theater after the roof collapsed. From the Library of Congress.

The storm responsible for the record snowfall formed east of South Carolina on the morning of January 27 and moved slowly north to a position well east of Cape Hatteras on the morning of January 28. It then drifted slowly east-northeast out to sea. A stationary high-pressure system north of New York State ensured that temperatures remained cold throughout the event.

The climatological data for January 1922 shows a month that was not unusual, outside of the massive snowstorm. On January 5, 1922, the temperature reached 62 and on January 20 the temperature reached 53. There was a very short cold wave on January 13 when the high temperature only reached 30. Overall, it was not a very wintry month, aside from the Knickerbocker Snowstorm. More information about the snowstorm can be found in the book, "Washington Weather."

By Kevin Ambrose  | January 28, 2008; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
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I've often wondered if that catastrophe was part of the reason why D.C. panics during snowstorms.

Posted by: WFY | January 28, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

i miss the snow!!

Posted by: madison | January 28, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Those were the days... back before global warming killed our hopes of a good snow... DAMN YOU AL GORE, DAMN YOU!!!!!

Posted by: Alex | January 28, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Good stuff Kevin, gotta ask, where did you find the accumulation map? I've looked in the past and could never find one! Also, any of the Team want to chime in on what would cause the 25+ area over DC? Just luck in the way it bombed out?

Posted by: Mike from the Blue Ridge | January 28, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Mike from Blue Ridge:
That map came from the book Ambrose cowrote--Washington Weather. They (Ambrose, Henry, Weiss) made it themselves

Posted by: gymengineer | January 28, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The Knickerbocker Theater used to sit on the corner of 18th and Columbia in Adams Morgan. Currently, there is a Police substation (Latino Liason Unit), and SunTrust Bank there. Julio's Empenadas is right behind it.

Posted by: Kalorama Park | January 28, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Wow! Great map. Can anyone explain how the area of greatest snowfall came to be centered right on (the now) I-95 corridor? Most winter storms set up the rain/snow line right in the same place. I guess this was truly a unique storm, considering the record still stands.

Posted by: CM | January 28, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Mother Nature hadn't heard of the yet-to-be-invented "North and West Suburbs" so she dumped on the city. We only get more snow now because of the media. Its all hype I tell ya. Imagine if YouTube existed back then and FX schools werent cancelled. Maybe the kid would have an argument with 2 feet instead of 2 inches.

Posted by: Dulles ARC | January 28, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Dan Henry was the morning TV Met at WJLA when we wrote the book back in 2002 and he created the map using his TV weather map software. I had pulled the snowfall depths from the NOAA Archives and Dan did the rest. The DC area just happened to be in the bullseye for that storm.

Posted by: Kevin, Capital Weather Gang | January 28, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks gymeng and Kevin, that's right, NOW I remember Dan Henry and when you guys put that together!

Posted by: Mike from the Blue Ridge | January 28, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Our winter so far looks as good as the housing market.

Posted by: ChrisfromVA | January 28, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Al Gore isn't's all our cars! Gore's trying to STOP gobal warming.

One old weather map I saw had the Knickerbocker Storm in the Gulf off Pensacola/Panama City (FL, not Panama!). This low must has spun up the one off South Carolina. (Was there a negative NAO and a 50-50 low?)

By the way, when's our next "Knickerbocker"? I'm tired of these little spritzes and rainstorms (especially on dance nights!)

Posted by: El Bombo | January 28, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't think we'll ever see another 20"+ snowstorm in the DC area.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 28, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

darn that thing was HUGE!!! and i thought our storms were bad up here in michigan!

Posted by: Victoria | May 8, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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