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Freezing Northern Virginia: 5 Memorable Winters

Get ready for freezing temperatures Monday and Tuesday in Northern Virginia.

Freezing temperatures will descend on Northern Virginia Monday and Tuesday courtesy of a "polar vortex." Patch archive photo by Mary Ann Barton
Freezing temperatures will descend on Northern Virginia Monday and Tuesday courtesy of a "polar vortex." Patch archive photo by Mary Ann Barton
By Mary Ann Barton

As Northern Virginia prepares to be hit by below-zero wind chills from a "polar vortex" Monday and Tuesday, we thought it might be a good time to stroll down memory lane to recall some of Northern Virginia's more extreme winters from years past.

So pull on your Uggs, zip up your fleece and grab a cup of something hot —away we go (information courtesy of the National Weather Service):

  • Jan. 26, 2011: If you got stuck in the commute driving home during this storm, you'll remember this one. A potent winter storm impacted the Washington area on Wednesday, Jan. 26. Conditions deteriorated rapidly as heavy snow began falling at the start of the afternoon rush hour. Heavy snow continued through the evening hours with snowfall rates around 2 to 3 inches per hour at the height of the event.

The snowfall led to multiple hours of gridlocked traffic due to the treacherous driving conditions. There were countless reports of commuters needing five to 10 hours to get home (a Washington Post story notes some were trapped up to 13 hours), while others abandoned their vehicles. Snowplows were unable to move in the gridlock.

The heavy, wet snow brought down many trees and power lines. The Washington Post reported almost 400,000 people lost power in the D.C. area that evening. Washington D.C. measured 5 inches of snowfall and Dulles measured 7.3 inches.


  • Snowmageddon, Feb. 5-6, 2010: Snow began at Dulles during the morning of the 5th. By 10 a.m., visibility was reduced to a half-mile. The two-day totals at the three major airports were BWI" 25 inches; Reagan National: 17.8 inches; Dulles Airport: 32.4 inches. The total at Dulles was not only the greatest two-day snowfall since records began in March 1963; it crushed the previous two-day total of 23.2 inches, set in January 1996. The total at Reagan National was the fourth greatest two-day snowfall in Washington D.C. since records began in 1871.
  • Dec. 18-19, 2009: On the morning of Friday, Dec. 18, low pressure was located in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle. Cold high pressure was located over southern Quebec. By Friday evening, the low moved off the North Carolina coast and underwent explosive intensification. Snow began at Dulles Airport around 7:30 pm Friday evening, and then continued through 11 p.m. Saturday. Totals include 16.4 inches at National Airport. For all three major airports this was the largest single December snowfall in history.
  • The Blizzard of 1996, Jan. 7, 1996 began early on Sunday, Jan. 7. Just two days earlier, an impasse between a Newt Gingrich's Republican Congress and Bill Clinton over the 1996 federal budget had finally come to an end. Many federal employees had been on furlough with government offices shut down for almost a month. Employees would finally return to work on Monday, Jan. 8. However, Mother Nature did not cooperate.
By Monday morning, DC was buried under 17 to 21 inches of snow. The entire region was paralyzed and the federal government remained shut down. As road crews worked hard to clear the snow, an "Alberta Clipper" shot through on Tuesday, Jan. 9 dumping an additional 3 to 5 inches. Plows that would have been working on secondary roads and residential areas were sent back to the primary roads. The government remained shut for four days that week and many schools and businesses announced their closure for the entire week. A third storm struck on Friday, Jan. 12, dumping another 4 to 6 inches over the metro area. By the week's end, most of the Washington area was buried under 2 to 3 feet of snow.

  • The Knickerbocker Storm, Jan. 28, 1922: Exactly 150 years after the Washington and Jefferson Storm (see below) came the deepest snow of the century to hit parts of Virginia. This storm is listed as the record. A band of heavy snow stretched across Richmond (19 inches), Washington, DC (28 inches), and Baltimore (25 inches) immobilizing the region. The weight of the snow was too much for the Knickerbocker Theater on 18th Street and Columbia in Northwest Washington, DC. The roof of the theater collapsed taking the balcony down with it and crushing nearly 100 people to death. The Washington Post has a detailed story here about the storm.
  • Washington and Jefferson Snow Storm, Jan. 28, 1772: This storm was named the Washington and Jefferson Snow Storm since both of their diaries recorded it. The storm left 36 inches of snow (three feet) in central and northern Virginia and the Washington area. Official weather records did not begin until after the Civil War. Therefore, this storm is not listed as the record, but it was the largest snow for this area ever noted.

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