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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 11/11/2010

On this day in 1987: Unpredicted. Paralyzing. Snow.

By Jason Samenow

* PM Update: 63 degrees forever *

Snowfall accumulation during the Veteran's Day snowstorm of 1987. Figure from American Meteorological Society report, obtained from website of Colin

If you lived in the metro region in November of 1987, you almost certainly remember the Veteran's Day snowstorm.

Here's a a nice summary of the storm from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sterling:

The Veteran's Day Storm will not be forgotten by many Washington area travelers. Almost a foot (11.5 inches) fell at National Airport. Prince Georges County, MD was hard hit with up to 13 inches of snow falling in a short amount of time. It caught motorists off guard and stranded cars on the Capitol Beltway. There were so many cars that snow plows could not get through to open the clogged arteries. Cars littered the roadway for more than 24 hours. The event precipitated the development of the Washington Metropolitan Area Snow Plan to facilitate preparedness and response to future storms.
This storm struck before the days of lightning detection networks and Doppler weather radar. When thunderstorms began dumping heavy snow over the Fredericksburg VA, forecasters had no idea. The storm moved northeast across the southern Metropolitan area (Prince Georges County). It was not until the fast accumulating snow hit Camp Springs, where at the time the Weather Forecast Office was located, did forecasters realize what was happening

This storm - its unpredictability, its violence, and its beauty - cemented my intent to become a meteorologist. Do you have memories of this storm?

By Jason Samenow  | November 11, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  History  
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I remember this event very well. Eleven inches of snow in Vienna. Freaky early snowstorm....very rare.

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | November 11, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Yes indeed I remember that storm; what a crazy day!

Posted by: natsncats | November 11, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

I was in high school. There's a whole page in my freshman yearbook about it. Waste of a snow day, since we already had Veteran's Day off. :p

Posted by: MKoehl | November 11, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I remember it clearly. I had been hiking over the previous weekend and it had been very warm, near 80 in fact. By Tuesday it was cloudy and chilly. Wednesday dawned cloudy and cold, with rain developing in late morning, becoming heavy at times by afternoon, with falling temps; then mixing with sleet and snow overnight. On Thursday it was all snow, and with temps below freezing it stuck. We had a foot on the ground by Thursday night. Had it been all snow, who knows how much we might have ended up with.

Posted by: dickinyobooty69 | November 11, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

i was only in 7th grade but I remember it well because it was also the day our entire 7th grade had a history field trip planned to Philadelphia. I didn't know then how historic that day was going to be. It was so amazing to come home to a foot of snow in Alexandria having just been in PA where it was only raining.

Posted by: snowmomma | November 11, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Had settled in Dupont/Adams-Morgan after graduate school in PHL, only two years into my real estate/urban planning consulting practice. I wasn't feeling well, so opted to work from home that day.

As the intensity of snow increased, I catapulted from window-to-window, forgetting whatever malaise I might have had-as well as my client deadline!

23 years later, and my wide-eyed excitement for snow remains as boundless as ever!

Posted by: TominMichiganParkDC | November 11, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I remember that day well but I wasn't in DC at the time, I was living in Blacksburg, VA while attending VA Tech. As I recall we had a bit of wet snow but we had classes as usual though many complained about how messy it was walking to class.

When I got back from class I popped on channel 5 as the cable system had WTTG on the cable system and was astonished at the storm back home. So I called my sis in Fairfax and got the blow by blow of her nightmare commute.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | November 11, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

I had 2 drive home in it from Fountainhead Park 2 Spotsy, was a lousy trip home. At least the traffic wasn't very bad.
Go Hokies beat UNC.

Posted by: VaTechBob | November 11, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

I was a freshman at GW, and had been living in Florida for nearly 10 years, so it had been a long time since I'd seen snow!

My recollection is that they cancelled classes the second day, but not the day the snow fell because of the surprise. Since, for undergrads, most live on campus, there was little impact.

Posted by: dkorn | November 12, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

How does this storm compare to other early storms?

Has there ever been more snow on an earlier date?

Posted by: ah___ | November 12, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I vividly remember the Veteran's Day Storm. I was in Camp Springs (NCEP) in the morning looking out the window and seeing snow beginning to accumulate, contrary to all forecasts. Indeed, it had been very warm the days before such that the warm ground and pavements were expected to preclude any meaningful accumulation.

But, my eyes belied that expectation, so fortunately I bailed out shortly before the beltway became a parking lot of snowbound vehicles. In my experience this was the biggest surprise snowstorm ever.

Posted by: ensemblemean | November 12, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Wes, ensemblemean is me, SteveT; still trying to track down how user name got changed

Posted by: ensemblemean | November 12, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

After living most of my early years in Southern California, my father ended up stationed in Newport RI at the Naval War this was my first ever actual snow event. Up there it sounds a lot like what we got down here...rain to mix to very heavy snow overnight. Went to sleep with nothing on the ground at 10am, and woke at 6am with a foot of very heavy, wet snow. My first ever snow day was full of non-stop sledding. Never forget it...this is the one that got me hooked on the white stuff. The difference up there is that the storm unfolded exactly as they forecast. I never knew that it was an epic bust of a forecast down here until just now!

Posted by: DullesARC | November 12, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I was still living in San Diego. The weather that day was 76 and sunny. As it was the day before and the day after.

Nice summary of the incident and the reasons why it really took people by surprise.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | November 12, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

A couple of things about this storm:

Some people were stuck in their cars overnight, on I-295, I believe.

I walked to work downtown that morning and it was mixed precip. Then all hell broke loose later in the a.m. Rarely have I seen snow accumulate so rapidly.

Only a day or two earlier temps were very mild, in the 60s or even low 70s.

Overall CY 1987 was a good snow year hereabouts and the year ended up with about 40", thanks in part to the big storms in late January (including one on Super Bowl Sunday) and another one in February.

During the first of the January storms, about three inches of snow fell in one hour. Walking through Georgetown in that storm was a real slog!

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | November 12, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I remember being out of school for a while! It was crazy :)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | November 12, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I remember the day vividly. This is probably the biggest thundersnow event I've seen in this area and the second biggest of my lifetime. (Dec. 19 or so, 1968, in Eau Claire Wisconsin, the morning after UW-Eau Claire lost its first WIAC basketball game of the 68/69 season to UW-River Falls, still ranks as as the biggest thundersnow event of my lifetime. Please feel free to ask me about that event some time. I have some nice stories about that snowstorm and several winter weather events which followed it during my senior year of college.)

Everyone was taken by surprise on Veterans' Day 1987. The forecast was for cold rain, perhaps changing to snow on the tail end as I recall. Little or no accumulation was expected. The ground was warm and temperature were not supposed to dip much below freezing.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | November 12, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I had the good fortune to be temporarily living in District Heights, MD, right on the maximum snow axis. It was my first thunder-snow and I remember how the in-cloud illuminations were an electric blue. I've never seen anything like it since...

Posted by: ASColletti | November 12, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I remember the 11/11/87 snowstorm well. Just under 12" in Vienna where I was. It was the largest November snow I've ever seen here. I can also remember, as a young kid, a couple of inches way back in early November of 1962, but nothing like the Veterans' Day storm. We also had a snow in October of 1979, but it didn't amount to much here in the D.C. did farther west, though, especially along Skyline Drive, where the leaves were still out on the trees and there was a lot of tree damage done from the weight of up to 12" of snow.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | November 12, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

I remember very well setting out with some neighbor moms and a largish group of children from about 2 to 8 yrs, to enjoy the flurries, the "dusting" of snow we were getting . . it seems to me that the temperature absolutely plummeted, the winds rose, we could hardly see ahead of us for horizontal snowfall. . .it was a struggle to get those little damp, blue-lipped, crabby folks home, not to mention the children!
Does anyone remember how long the snow stayed around?

Posted by: offhandmanor | November 13, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

I was at a NASA site in New Mexico associated with the Goddard Space Flight Center. When I arrived for the day's work, one of the operators said, "Hey, the Greenbelt guys say it's snowing there!" I just thought "ha ha" and got to work, until I saw TV footage of Cap Weinberger at Arlington Cemetery with the snow coming down.

My wife, meanwhile, has never quite forgiven me for being out-of-town for that one. It doesn't help that I was on another business trip in southern California when the 2003 storm came through. If I'd been away for any of this year's storms, I'd probably have had to stay there.

Posted by: kevinwparker | November 16, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

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