RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The “Knickerbocker” storm of 1922 was on a scale never before seen on the East Coast, a storm that set record snowfall in multiple areas and lasted the span of three full days. This storm received its name from the collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C.
In the leadup to this storm, cold air was already in place due to an arctic airmass that had blanketed the area for days before. Temperatures were below freezing leading up to the event and throughout. There was a frontal boundary that was on the drier side until it passed the gulf, where a rapidly deepening low formed off the coast of Florida as the front and low met up.
Heavy snow quickly developed along the east coast and a high pressure system to the north cut this low off from the jet stream, suspending the storm above the eastern seaboard from the Carolinas to the Northeast.
Snow reached Philly and Washington by the Jan. 27 and continued into the morning of the 29th. Snowfall was especially heavy in the Mid-Atlantic with this storm spewing out over 20 inches of snow in multiple spots.
Here in Richmond, VA, we picked up 19 inches of snow from this one event. Washington, D.C picked up over 2 feet of snow with high drift amounts as well. The Northeast also picked up over a foot of snow. Many places saw record snowfall and this event did not end until Jan. 29.
The local forecasters of the time did not predict the severity of this event, only realizing the magnitude of the storm once it was already in motion. This unfortunately caught many people off guard.
The storm system was abnormally slow, and that was a key element that may have caught forecasters by surprise. The Knickerbocker Theater collapsed under the immense amount of snowfall that D.C received, which caused numerous injuries, deaths and destruction of property.
Many storms have been compared to the “Knickerbocker” storm but none have been able to rival it. Within the Knickerbocker Theater during this event, there was estimated to be 900 attendees. There were 98 reported deaths and 133 people injured.
Investigations after the event placed the blame on the use of arch girders instead of stone pillars, which led to weaker infrastructure leading to the roof collapse.