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Posted at 9:45 AM ET, 12/30/2010

Washington's greatest snowstorms

By Kevin Ambrose

The top 10 snowstorms for Washington, D.C., since records began in 1871. Last winter provided two of the top 10 snowstorms.

For a time last week, it appeared that we had a small chance to add another entry into Washington's list of all-time great snowstorms. Some models indicated the storm that lashed coastal areas Sunday (12/26/10) would track closer to the coast and even stall, dumping copious amounts of snow across the entire Washington area.

But, as we all know now, the storm developed farther east and north such that Washington missed out on most of the snow. New Jersey, southeastern New York, and eastern New England hit the snow jackpot, with 18"+ accumulations of snow common and some locations exceeding 24".

Well, to make snow lovers feel a little bit better about being so close to a major blizzard, I've compiled a few snowfall plots of past storms that show direct hits to our area. The snowfall plots show the snow accumulation across the entire Washington area, not just at the official recording stations. This is useful to understand the scope of the storms and to see who received the snowfall bulls-eye. The latest storm may have missed us, but we can remember last winter, and past storms, when we had our turn.

Read below to see snowfall plots for a few of Washington's top snowstorms, including the Knickerbocker Snowstorm, Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, Snoverkill, and the Blizzard of 1996.

snowplot_1922_web.jpg#1 Snowstorm for Washington - The Knickerbocker Snowstorm. Washington recorded 28" of snow.

I created these snowfall plots with Adobe Photoshop based on the color codes and style of the NESIS maps from NOAA. They include the top 5 snowstorms for Washington plus the top 3 snowstorms for last season. The source of the snowfall data was from NOAA, the book "Northeast Snowstorms" by Kocin and Uccellini, and various Capital Weather Gang posts and reports from last winter. The maps are not perfect, but they are a fair estimation of the snowfall across our area. The snowfall plots were created for the Snowmageddon book that I wrote with CWG forecaster and photographer, Ian Livingston.

#2 Snowstorm for Washington - The Blizzard of 1899. Washington recorded 20.5" of snow.

#3 Snowstorm for Washington - The Presidents' Day Snowstorm of 1979. Washington recorded 18.7" of snow.

#4 Snowstorm for Washington - Snowmageddon, February 5-6, 2010. Washington recorded 17.8" of snow.

#5 Snowstorm for Washington - The Blizzard of 1996. Washington recorded 17.1" of snow.

#8 Snowstorm for Washington - Snowpocalypse, December 18-19, 2009. Washington recorded 16.4" of snow.

#25 Snowstorm for Washington - Snoverkill, February 9-10, 2010. Washington recorded 10.8" of snow.

By Kevin Ambrose  | December 30, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Education, Latest, Photography, Snowmageddon, Winter Storms  
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Keep in mind those figures are from the heat island and snow black hole known as National Airport, so they do not reflect reality in any way for most of us.

Posted by: rwalker66 | December 30, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

After the 1996 storm I think we spent most of the next few day's daylight hours sledding in Manassas battlefield.
These last 2009-2010 storms all we did was DIG.
By the time we were finally had the cars out we didn't have any energy left for the sled.

And now for a moment of respectful silence in honor of what the NY area is still dealing with.
I LOVE snow, but it's stupid to deny that a lot of people don't; it poses many problems & dangers, and they got hammered.

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | December 30, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

You should have used Dulles for the snow totals on that chart. Whoever is in charge of measuring snow at DCA should be fired. How is it possible that DCA only gets 17" but several locations just across the river in downtown DC get 2 ft+??? I live near IAD and we got 33" at my house! Therefore, DCA got SIXTEEN INCHES LESS EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE ONLY 20 MILES AWAY! Why don't they measure it on the National Mall??? That DCA is a can of worms! And their temperature readings are always waaaaaaay off. It's insulting that the clowns at the NWS think that DCA is a good representation of Washington, D.C.!

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 30, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

It's insulting that the clowns at the NWS think that DCA is a good representation of Washington, D.C.!

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 30, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

There are some representation issues for sure at DCA... but it's what we've got. I was down on the Mall on Feb 6, and while there was maybe a little more snow there than at the airport, there was certainly less than other parts of D.C. So I would not say it is unrepresentative of the small climate zone it covers. In a very cold event like Jan 30 the number there was about the same as everywhere else.. so I don't believe that there are other major problems besides location/elevation/etc.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | December 30, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

As we know, DCA is located in Arlington, VA, not in Washington, DC. I had to create a small snow hole on the Snowmageddon map just to represent DCA. It would be great to see snow measured on Capitol Hill, the Mall, or somewhere within the city. NYC measures snow in Central Park in addition to their airports.

By the way, this post wasn't meant to highlight DCA's low snow measurements. The topic often resurfaces. Check out my April Fools Day post regarding DCA's snow measurements:

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 30, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

There's never been a RECORDED 30+-inch snowstorm in Washington, D.C....unless you count the Jan. 28, 1772 "Washington/Jefferson Snowstorm" before official records were kept.

Even the "Knickerbocker" figure of 28 inches may be somewhat on the high side...that 28 inches was NOT recorded at Reagan National Airport! The "Reagan" total for the 1922 storm might be much closer to the 1996, 2003, 2009, 2010 or 1979 totals. Thus the 1772 storm may be the highest "historic" storm total for Washington, D.C., as George Washington's three feet were recorded at Mount Vernon, not far from Reagan National [which was the Abingdon plantation at the time of the 1772 storm].

It would be interesting to find out if there are snow depth records for Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax for the 1922 snowstorm. Betcha these records are closer to 18 inches than 28 inches. Thus our deepest snowfall of record may be from one of the more recent storms.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | December 30, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Meh. Incoming torch not looking good to add another slide to this presentation.

Posted by: ennepe68 | December 30, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Great presentation, Kevin! Interesting that DCA storms number 3 through 8 on the list came in the last 31 winters despite the decrease in the average seasonal snowfall there.

Posted by: DOG3521 | December 30, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse


"For a time last week, it appeared that we had a small chance to add another entry into Washington's list of all-time great snowstorms."

Why are you reopening fresh wounds?

I'm still not completely over it.

Posted by: Snowlover2 | December 30, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

me neither.

Posted by: manassasmissy | December 30, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

DOG3521: It's also interesting that number 3 through 8 came from DCA despite the many years before that measurements occurred in the snowier hills of NW DC. The trend has been less overall snow per year with a few very large snowstorms sprinkled through the decades.

Snowlover2: I'm with you, I still feel pain watching the recent NYC snow videos. Just remember that we got our unfair share of snow last February. During Snowmageddon, NYC got flurries.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 30, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm not over it either, Snowlover2. I was practically drooling over the NYC radar images!

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 30, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I think it is funny how on Feb 5-6 27.5 inches were measured at American Univ in NW DC and only 17.5 at DCA which is only 5-10 miles away. How can that there be a 10 inches snowfall difference so close together.

Posted by: ajmupitt | December 30, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

btw, the Snowmageddon book is awesome.

Posted by: ennepe68 | December 30, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

ennepe68: Thanks, I appreciate the comment.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 30, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

DCA measurements are a fraud. Measurements should be on the national mall or somewhere else. There is no way in 1996 that DC only got 17 inches. That storm annihilated this area. Same with the February 2010 and December 2009 and President's Day 2003. All the measurements are too low.

Posted by: Sticksboi35 | December 30, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't characterize the old weather station at 24 & M as up in the hills. That altitude is c.a. 75' above sea level. However it is just far enough inland so that the brackish water of the Potomac doesn't come into play the way it does at DCA.

We went round and round and round about DCA last winter, esp. after the Feb 5-6 snow measurement fiasco. I thought the suggestion to use the Naval Observatory behind the VP's house as the official measuring spot was great. The fact that the observatory a few blocks from where I live is coincidental. ; ))

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | January 1, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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