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New York forecast miss came 93 years after surprise 'Knickerbocker' storm

Horse carts are used to remove snow from Court House Plaza in Baltimore during the Knickerbocker Storm. on January 27, 1922. The storm took its name from the resulting collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C. which killed 98 people and injured 133.
Horse carts are used to remove snow from Court House Plaza in Baltimore during the Knickerbocker Storm. on January 27, 1922. The storm took its name from the resulting collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C. which killed 98 people and injured 133. (Baltimore Sun)

Though many in New York City grumbled when forecasts of a "historic" blizzard did not come true this week, almost a century ago, a deadly storm took Baltimore and Washington by surprise -- and brought what is still Baltimore's snowiest day on record.

It dropped 23.3 inches in one day and a total of 26.5 inches over three days, Jan. 27-29, 1922, according to the National Weather Service. That is on par with -- and sometimes even less than -- many of the snow totals around eastern Massachusetts and other parts of New England on Tuesday.

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Dozens died when the snow caused the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre to collapse, giving the storm its name.

But such a historic snow was not foreseen. According to the Jan. 27, 1922, editions of The Sun:

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"In the Middle Atlantic States the weather will become cloudy and warmer today, with snow or rain in Southern Virginia, and be unsettled with snow or rain tonight or tomorrow. In the South Atlantic States there will be rain and sleet today and rain tomorrow with rising temperature. ... Storm warnings are displayed on the Atlantic Coast at and between the Virginia Capes and Cape Hatteras. Disturbance over Southern Florida will probably advance northeastward."

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that though forecasting has improved by "light years" over the past few decades, "we still have challenges."

In predicting snowfall for Tuesday's storm over the Northeast, the word "historic" was included in one weather service forecast discussion and quickly spread around the media, weather service officials said, along with predictions of as much as 30 inches of snow for New York City. But the city ended up getting around 8 inches to a foot.

Despite the miss, past storms have shown it's better to be safe than sorry, Uccellini said. Included in examples of storms he offered where warnings came too late or not at all was the Presidents' Day storm of 1979 that struck Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

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"The gridlock was so bad from this storm, there was looting in Baltimore for hours after the storm," he said.

The Knickerbocker storm similarly paralyzed the region -- and it remains the record-holder for highest one-day snowfall here.

Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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