The Great Knickerbocker Snowstorm of 1922

The Great Knickerbocker Snowstorm of 1922

86 years ago today, the big one hit…

Digging out during the record-breaking Knickerbocker snowstorm, January 28, 1922. From NOAA Library.

When I was a young kid back in the 1970s there was a neighbor we called “Old Man Bean” who would tell us stories about an amazing snowstorm that produced drifts over 10′, stopped the trains between Manassas and Clifton, Virginia, and collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater. His stories made an impression on me as a kid and fueled my interest in weather, particularly big snowstorms. Many years later, I researched the Knickerbocker Snowstorm, which still ranks as D.C.’s single largest snowstorm.

Crandall’s Knickerbocker Theatre on the morning after its roof collapsed under the weight of a 28-inch snowfall, January 29, 1922. From Washingtonian Division, D.C. Public Library.

The Knickerbocker Snowstorm began during the evening of January 27, 1922 and by the morning of January 28, the snow total had reached 18 inches. By mid-afternoon, the accumulation reached a depth of 25 inches. The snow did not stop until the morning of January 29, with an official snow depth of 28 inches, a single storm snowfall record for Washington, D.C. that still stands today. A snow depth of 33 inches was measured in Rock Creek Park, three miles to the north of Washington’s official weather station at that time. Temperatures were in the low-to-mid-20’s during most of the storm and the liquid total of the snowfall was 3.02 inches.

The snowfall map of the Washington, D.C. area after the Knickerbocker Snowstorm.

The weight of the record-breaking snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre. The roof of the theater fell on scores of moviegoers, killing 98 and injuring 133. The disaster ranks as one of the worst in Washington’s history.

Inside the Knickerbocker Theater after the roof collapsed. From the Library of Congress.

The storm responsible for the record snowfall formed east of South Carolina on the morning of January 27 and moved slowly north to a position well east of Cape Hatteras on the morning of January 28. It then drifted slowly east-northeast out to sea. A stationary high-pressure system north of New York State ensured that temperatures remained cold throughout the event.

The climatological data for January 1922 shows a month that was not unusual, outside of the massive snowstorm. On January 5, 1922, the temperature reached 62 and on January 20 the temperature reached 53. There was a very short cold wave on January 13 when the high temperature only reached 30. Overall, it was not a very wintry month, aside from the Knickerbocker Snowstorm. More information about the snowstorm can be found in the book, “Washington Weather.”

By Kevin Ambrose |  January 28, 2008; 10:30 AM ET Photography
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