Measuring up: A look back at DC snow totals

WASHINGTON — A small coating of snow could frost parts of the region on Friday, but the D.C. area has endured worse. When it comes to snow in Washington, residents are used to two extremes: scarcely any or way too much.

Records from the National Weather Service and the National Climatic Data Center show that extra snowy winters — those that produce over 2 feet of snow in D.C. — occur about every six years.

Powerful snowstorms in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1996, 2003 and 2010 helped push winter snow totals well above average during those seasons. The 2009-2010 winter will be long remembered for its relentless snowstorms that led to an all-time record seasonal snowfall at Reagan National and Dulles International airports.

The snowiest winters on record in Washington featured over three feet of snow. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The snowiest winters on record in Washington featured over three feet of snow. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Snowfall records for the District of Columbia date back to 1884. Measurements were recorded at the downtown National Weather Bureau and Signal Service offices along G Street and M Street until the official observation site was moved to National Airport in 1941. Over the years there have been repeated calls to move the official site back to the District.

The city averages 15.4 inches of snow each winter season.

At Dulles International Airport, records have been kept since the airport opened in 1962. An average winter near Dulles usually features about 22 inches of snow, about half of a foot more than the averaged tallies at Reagan National Airport. The 1995-1996 winter featured the second highest seasonal snow total at Dulles thanks in large part to the Blizzard of 1996.

The snowiest winters at Dulles International Airport. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The snowiest winters at Dulles International Airport. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The least snowy winters in Washington were the 1997-1998 and 1972-1973 seasons when just a tenth of an inch was measured.

Single storm snowfall records

The snowstorms that stick in our minds the longest are those that were best measured with a yard stick.

Infamous Washington snowstorms include the Blizzard of 1899, the Presidents Day Snowstorm of 1979 and the Blizzard of 1983. The highest single storm total snowfall in Washington D.C. was logged on January 28, 1922 when 2 and 1/2 feet fell. The storm has since been known as the Knickerbocker Snowstorm. The weight of the heavy snow caused the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater in Adams Morgan to collapse, killing 98 people.

More recently, the Snowmageddon storm in 2010 and the Blizzard of 2016 have entered the record books.

The biggest snowstorms to take place within a three-day period in Washington D.C. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The biggest snowstorms to take place within a three-day period in Washington D.C. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The Blizzard of 2016 produced the second highest snowstorm total at Dulles Airport. After the last flake fell on January 23rd, 29.3 inches were measured.

The Snowmageddon storm in February 2010 remains as the top snowstorm on record at the observing site. Three snowstorms during the first two weeks of February 2010, along with a record-breaking December storm, pushed the season’s snowfall totals to an all-time high.

The biggest snowstorms to take place within a three-day period at Dulles International Airport. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The biggest snowstorms to take place within a three-day period at Dulles International Airport. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The Presidents Day Storm of 2003 dropped 21.7 inches of snow on Washington during a holiday weekend, making it the fifth largest storm on record at Dulles Airport.

A typical period of snowfall in Washington usually amounts to about 2 inches on the ground. The region is blanketed by two inches snow roughly three or four times in a typical winter. A heftier 10-inch snowstorm occurs about once every five years.

Snowfall by day since 2009

The mammoth snowstorms during the winter of 2009-2010 led to the region’s snowiest winter of all time. Since Snowmageddon, three winters have ended in above average snow for the District. The other three came to a close with just a few slushy inches on the books. The winter of 2011-2012 was one of the least snowy winters on record.

Click through the graphics below to dig through D.C.’s snowstorms since 2009.


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