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Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 04/25/2012

Was Monday’s return to winter unusual? A history of snow in April in Washington, D.C.


A rare April snow coats the Capitol grounds on the 7th in 2007 (Kevin Ambrose)
Now that (some of us) have had our little flirtation with winter, I thought it might be interesting to compare the recent April Nor’easter with Aprils past.

By late April standards, there’s no doubt that the storm was unusual and bizarre, especially since it followed days in the 70s and 80s, even in the areas that saw accumulating snow. But as was pointed out by others, what made this storm even more striking is that it followed the “non-winter” of 2011-12 which, in turn, followed a pre-Halloween storm of such epic proportions (for the season) that many thought we were in store for a horrendous winter.

In the immediate D.C. area, of course, little or no snow was seen. Probably the most unusual aspect of the storm was that on Sunday, April 22, the temperature topped off at 50 degrees (Reagan National Airport, DCA), the lowest high temperature in almost a month and a half (March 10).

Traces of snow in the month of April are not that unusual here and have been recorded during many recent years. But the last time that there was measurable April snowfall (.4 inch) at DCA was on April 7, 2007, an event which also followed 80 degree temperatures several days earlier.

Looking at the entire official snowfall record from DCA (and predecessor locations) dating back to the winter of 1887-88, it’s clear that April snow has become an endangered species here. For example, looking at the 10 Aprils from 1889 to 1898, there were four recorded snow events ranging from one-tenth of an inch to 4 inches.*

From the start of snow records in the late 1880s, fairly regular April snow events continued until 1924. During that period, 2 storms were particularly noteworthy: (1) the April 3, 1915 Easter weekend storm, which left 3.5 inches in D.C., but 15-20 inches in a swath from Philadelphia to Dover, DE; and (2) the April Fool’s Storm of April 1, 1924, which dumped 5-6 inches of snow on the Nation’s Capital and 9 inches in Baltimore. The latter was D.C.’s greatest official April snowstorm and appeared to be the culmination of regular April snow events in Washington. Since then, there’s been only about one per decade.

Prior to the official record, April--and even May—snows were much more common, as chronicled by David Ludlum, author of Early American Winters, 1604-1820 and Early American Winters,1821-1870.

But possibly the heaviest April snowstorm in D.C. since its earliest beginnings occurred on April 5, 1863, during the middle of the Civil War. On that day, according to Georgetown resident and diarist, the Rev C. B. Mackee, 12 inches of snow fell in Washington!

Rev. Mackee had devoted much of his life toward making weather observations and completed possibly the only known weather record for the D.C. area of the entire Civil War. Accordingly, although Mackee’s readings haven’t been corroborated, there’s little reason to doubt their authenticity, according to Robert K. Krick, author of Civil War Weather in Virginia, where Mackee’s data appears.

So…..12 inches of snow in April 1863--- that would be six times this past winter’s snowfall, I believe!

*A storm on April 10, 1894 blocked roads with 2 feet or more of wind-whipped snow throughout parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. As usual, however, D.C. was left with only a couple of inches.

Related links

Is April snow in D.C. becoming more rare?

April Weather: Both Appalling and Amazing

What is Washington, D.C.’s weather like in April? Breaking down norms and extremes

By  |  10:50 AM ET, 04/25/2012

Categories:  Latest, Local Climate, History, Lipman

 
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