Record Veterans Day snowstorm anniversary marked with Nicole downpours, storms

Thirty-five years ago — just as the D.C. area is bracing for tropical storms from former Hurricane Nicole on Friday — winter was knocking on our door unexpectedly.

Similar to this month, November 1987 began with very warm weather. The high temperature reached 77 degrees on Nov. 4, and the weather pattern began to change on Nov. 10 as a cold front dropped temperatures into the 50s and produced three-fourths of an inch of rain in D.C.

What came as a surprise was the pattern that immediately followed the front.

Cold air quickly drained onto the Interstate 95 corridor, and a low pressure developed along the front’s southern flank, pushing more moisture into the District. Rain changed to heavy, wet snow and blasted the region; Reagan National Airport was clobbered with a record-breaking 11.5 inches of snow while nearby Prince George’s County, Maryland, was buried under 13 inches.

Unlike most snowstorms that hit the D.C. area, the bull’s-eye for the heaviest snow was along I-95, not the western suburbs. No snow was observed west of the Blue Ridge.

The U.S. weather map from Nov. 11, 1987 showing the winter storm pummeling the D.C. region. (Courtesy NOAA)

Motorists were caught off guard, and cars became stranded on the Capital Beltway for more than 24 hours. In addition, the standstill traffic prevented snowplows from doing their job.

Doppler weather radar and a lightning detection network were not in existence in 1987, so the thundersnow observed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, went unnoticed by meteorologists in the District. Nevertheless, the Veterans Day winter storm put the wheels in motion for the development of the Washington Metropolitan Area Snow plan, which helped to facilitate response to future D.C. winter storms.

November 1987 is a good-matched analog so far to this November.

Nicole’s moisture will be followed by a cold front that will bring a week to 10-day period of below-average temperatures and a hard freeze that will end the growing season along and east of I-95.

However, there is also a good chance for a few flurries to make it into D.C. on the heels of one of several systems expected to push through the East early into the Thanksgiving holiday week.

Stay with WTOP for the latest on the weather forecast on the 8’s.

Chad Merrill

Chad Merrill is a meteorologist and digital weather content producer for WTOP. Prior to joining WTOP, Chad was a meteorologist in the private industry and television. He loves to share his passion with listeners and readers and is eager to hear from anyone who has any weather questions!

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