Washington's 10 biggest blizzards

Story highlights

  • The biggest snowfall in Washington, D.C., was 28 inches in 1922
  • This weekend's storm will need to be a monster to topple records

(CNN)The massive winter storm pummeling the Mid-Atlantic is expected to dump some 2 feet of snow on Washington, D.C. by Saturday night, enough to shut the city down at least through the weekend.

But will it be a record?
Measuring the paralyzing impact of winter storms is an inexact science. Heavy snows alone, for example, can be less crippling than lighter snow whipped by high winds, or a glazing of ice that makes driving a perilous contact sport.
In terms of pure snowfall, however, this storm will need to be a monster to topple records for Washington and its suburbs. A blizzard almost a century ago, in January 1922, dropped 28 inches of snow on the nation's capital, a record for a three-day period in the city. Almost 2 feet of the white stuff fell in one day.
More recently a February 2010 storm dumped more than 32 inches at nearby Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia, according to the National Weather Service. Somehow that storm left less than 18 inches of snow in Washington, only 26 miles to the east.
Here's a glance at the 10 biggest storms, measured by snowfall over a one- to 3-day period, to hit Washington since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1884.
  1. 28 inches on January 27-29, 1922
  2. 20 inches on February 12-14, 1899
  3. 18.7 inches on February 18-19, 1979
  4. 17.8 inches on February 5-6, 2010
  5. 17.3 inches on January 7-9, 1996
  6. 16.6 inches on February 10-11, 1983
  7. 16.4 inches on December 18-19, 2009
  8. 16.4 inches on February 16-18, 2003
  9. 14.4 inches on February 15-16, 1958
  10. 14.4 inches on February 7, 1936
Washington snowstorm heading into heaviest stages
Washington snowstorm heading into heaviest stages

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But those 10 blizzards weren't necessarily the storms that gave the hardest wallop to the Mid-Atlantic.
In 2004 two climate scientists developed the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, which seeks to measure a blizzard's scope by factoring in the size of the area affected by the storm, the amount of snow and the number of people living in the storm's path.
They concluded that the granddaddy of Northeast winter storms was a three-day March 1993 blizzard that dumped more than 20 inches of snow in major parts of nine states, from North Carolina to Vermont. In many places, that storm left 30-plus inches of snow before it was done.
This weekend's storm will no doubt be hugely disruptive. But unless it is bigger and nastier than anyone imagines, it won't be unprecedented.