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Where Snowzilla fits into D.C.’s top 10 snowstorms

Washington D.C.’s top ten snowstorms on record as of January 22, 2016, before Snowzilla. (Kevin Ambrose and Ian Livingston)

Washington, D.C. is in the midst of a historic snowstorm — one that will rank among the heaviest of all time.  The only question is where on the list does the storm place?

A few model runs indicated there was potential to exceed the Knickerbocker Snowstorm of 1922 which dumped 28 inches of snow on D.C. and many indicated this storm would top the Blizzard of 1899, Washington’s second ranked snowstorm which dropped 20.5 inches.

As of 8 p.m., Reagan National Airport, D.C.’s official observing location, was reporting a total of 17.8 inches, meaning Snowzilla ties Snowmageddon as the fourth biggest snowstorm on record in D.C. However, we are unconvinced this total is correct and believe there is a chance it will be adjusted upwards.

Washington, D.C., snowfall total called into question after improper measurement

It is uncertain whether Snowzilla’s final total will approach the February 1979 Presidents’ Day Snowstorm which unloaded 18.7 inches of snow at National and the 20.5 inches from 1899.

Snowzilla will not break the Knickerbocker Snowstorm’s record. The 28 inches from that storm almost seems untouchable in part because D.C.’s weather station was moved from a snowier, elevated location at 24th and M Streets, NW to Reagan National Airport along the Potomac River in 1945.  The Presidents’ Day Snowstorm stands as the greatest snow on record at the airport.

Looking back at snowstorm records for Washington, most of D.C.’s top snows fall in the 10 to 20 inches range.  Our northern and western suburbs often get more than downtown for big snow totals for a variety of reasons which include higher elevation (colder temperatures) and being more often removed from the rain-snow line which will often set up near I-95 and National Airport.  With this storm, cold temperatures and rain-snow lines are not much of an issue, but the heaviest snow has set up – as often the case – northwest of the city.

Everything you need to know about snow in Washington, D.C.

It’s worth mentioning that the largest unofficial snowstorm for our area is the Washington and Jefferson Snowstorm of 1772.  The diaries of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson reference a great snowstorm that occurred January 27-29, 1772 that piled up snow three feet deep from the Blue Ridge Mountains east to the Chesapeake Bay.  In Winchester, Virginia, the snow was measured at 2 feet, 9 inches.  The Gazette of Annapolis commented: “it is with utmost difficulty people pass from one house to another.”  Areas to the north, however, towards Philadelphia and New York, received much less snow.

So, will this storm pass 1979, 1899, or even 1922?  Will some parts of our area approach Washington and Jefferson snowfall totals?  We will have to wait and see.

Here is a rundown of the top ten storms, before Snowzilla, with historical photos…

Number 1: The Knickerbocker Snowstorm of 1922, 28 inches

The Knickerbocker Snowstorm: Inside insights on D.C.’s deadliest disaster

Number 2: The Blizzard of 1899, 20.5 inches

Number 3: The Presidents’ Day Storm of 1979, 18.7 inches

How the surprise President’s Day snowstorm of 1979 advanced forecasting

Number 4: Snowmageddon of 2010, 17.8 inches

Snowmageddon: The first of two Mid-Atlantic blizzards in February 2010


The storms below have been passed by Snowzilla of 2016…

Number 5: The Blizzard of 1996, 17.1 inches

Remembering the Blizzard of 1996 that paralyzed Washington, D.C.

Number 6: Presidents’ Day II Snowstorm of 2003, 16.7 inches

Number 7: Blizzard of 1983, 16.6 inches

The Megalopolitan Blizzard of February 10-12, 1983

Number 8: Snowpocalypse of 2009, 16.4 inches

‘Snowpocalypse’ strikes, smashes December snow records

Number 9: Blizzard of 1936, 14.4 inches

Number 10: Snowstorm of 1958, 14.4 inches

Deadly winter storm hit the nation’s capital

ARLINGTON VA, JANUARY 24: A man shovels a sidewalk along Wilson Bvld in Arlington VA, January 24, 2016. (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)