The surprise Nov. 11 snowstorm, which dumped up to 16 inches of snow around the city, got winter off to an early start, though winter began officially only two days ago.

The storm left 11.5 inches of snow at National Airport, official recording station of the National Weather Service -- and buried cars in downtown Washington (above) -- but it was enough to rank it among the top 11 snowstorms of the past century here -- tied with two other 11.5-inch storms, in 1930 and 1942.

Last winter's smaller back-to-back snowstorms had a much greater impact, however, dropping a combined total of 20 inches of colder snow that slowed or stopped traffic for much of a week -- 10.8 inches fell on Jan. 22 and another 9.2 inches fell during Jan. 25-26, according to Scott Prosise, forecaster for the National Weather Service.

Washington's earliest recorded snow fell Oct. 10, 1979; the latest snow April 28, 1898.

TOP WASHINGTON SNOWSTORMS; BIGGEST SNOWFALLS FROM 1887 TO 1987 DATE OF STORM--TOTAL SNOW (INCHES)--WINTER SNOW TOTAL (INCHES)--AVERAGE WINTER TEMP.*

Feb. 13, 1899--------12.0----54.4----35.9

Jan. 27-28, 1922-----25.0----44.5----36.2

Jan. 30, 1930--------11.5----18.1----38.6

Dec. 17-18, 1932-----12.0----23.8----40.2

Feb. 6-7, 1936-------14.4----33.0----30.8

March 28-29, 1942----11.5----13.6----36.8

Feb. 15-16, 1958-----14.4----40.4----35.7

Jan. 29-30, 1966-----13.8--28.4------36.7

Feb. 18-19, 1979-----18.7----34.9----35.5

Feb. 11-12, 1983-----16.6----21.3----40.8

Nov. 11, 1987**------11.5----....--.....

AVERAGE WINTER***-- -- --17.3--37.2 *Average of daily high and low temperatures for the three winter months. **Last month's storm will be classified statistically as a winter of 1988 storm. ***Averages are for 30-year period from 1951 to 1980, recorded at National Airport. SOURCE: National Weather Service.