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Knickerbocker Snowstorm a century ago a tragedy in D.C. and Berks County

The 100th anniversary of one of the more tragic snowstorms on record in the mid-Atlantic is January 28.

At 33 inches, the Knickerbocker Snowstorm holds the record for greatest snowfall on record in Washington, which is also where tragedy struck.

But it also struck in Berks County, even as the county escaped the brunt of the powerful nor’easter.

In D.C., the flat roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre, a movie house built in 1917 collapsed during the intermission of the film “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford,” killing 98 people and injuring 113.

The same storm officially measured 11.6 inches at the downtown Reading office of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

The front page of the Reading Eagle on Jan. 28, 1922, recorded that a man and a boy were killed at the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing along Pottsville Pike in Muhlenberg Township that morning, where their truck was hit by a train during the snowstorm.

The crossing watchman, Edward N. James, blamed the the heavy snow for not being able to see the approaching locomotive in time. The coal truck driver, Allen J. Ochenwadel, 21, who was employed by the nearby Henry Gass & Sons, and a passenger, Hayden George, 10, were killed instantly, according to the story.

Their bodies were recovered a half mile down the tracks.

On Jan. 30, 1922, the Reading Eagle reported that a former Reading woman named Martha Cole, who had moved to Washington, had tickets for the film but had the good fortune of being under the weather so she didn’t go to the Knickerbocker that night.

Meanwhile, back in 2022, Berks is in a deep freeze typical for late January, the coldest part of the year on average. The mercury dipped to 9 degrees Saturday morning at Reading Regional Airport.

The temperature at the airport crossed the freezing mark on the way down about 4 p.m. Thursday and might not get back to freezing until Tuesday.

Expect sunny skies in the meantime but then clouds are expected to gather on Tuesday with rain and snow likely later, according to AccuWeather.

Sunny conditions are expected for most of the rest of the workweek and it shouldn’t be as cold as currently, AccuWeather says.

Recently, the GFS model has been forecasting a similar storm to a century ago with nearly the exact timing and strength of the Knickerbocker Snowstorm.

No weather forecast services have adopted the model as a forecast.

Retired meteorologist and Berks weather historian Jeffrey R. Stoudt said, “The model run suggests strongly moderating temperatures and rapid meltdown a few days later.  And that is what occurred 100 years ago. This observation should be considered only as a curiosity at this time.”

The weather service office in Mount Holly, N.J., which oversees Berks and the Philadelphia region, is curious as well.

The meteorologists there said this Saturday morning: “The setup becomes fairly interesting by the end of the week, with the cold surface high retreating to our north and east downstream of a digging trough in the central U.S. This has potential to develop a surface low near or off the Southeast coast by the end of the week into the weekend.

“Of course, solutions by this point are widely varying … The 00z GFS gives much of the area a healthy winter storm. Much too early to pick and choose a solution, with consensus suggesting the best chances for precipitation in our area just beyond the forecast period anyway.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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