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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smithsonian Snow Days

In its 164 year history, the Smithsonian Institution very rarely closes its doors to the public for inclement weather. However, as we all know, the past two snow storms hammered the Washington, D.C., area and left almost 3 feet of snow in some areas. Closing for a total of 6 days, from February 6 to 11, the Smithsonian dug out and reopened its doors to the public on Friday, February 12, 2010.
So has the Smithsonian ever closed for this many days? Was this the worst storm employees had to deal with? Here is a look back at the some of the Smithsonian’s Biggest Snow days:
1922: On January 29, 1922, a blizzard dumped over two feet of snow on Washington, D.C. Government employees were sent home and the United States National Museum shut down. Tragically, the snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing over 100 people.
1979: From February 19-20 the Smithsonian Institution closed for two days due to snow. This was the first time in 50 years that the Museums closed for two days in a row for inclement weather. The National Zoo closed for a third day, February 21. As a result of the snow, the lower skylight roof of the Arts & Industries Building sustained damage and offices in the South Hall and a section of the West Wing also closed on February 21.
1983: In what was then Washington, D.C.’s third largest snow storm of the 20th century, snow fell over the city from February 11-12. The Smithsonian Institution closed at 11:30 am on Friday, February 11 and reopened its doors on Sunday, February 13. The storm kept visitors away and only 15,073 people visited the Museums (the average for a typical Sunday in 1983 was 50,000 visitors).
1987: At 12:30 pm, on January 22, 1987, the Smithsonian Institution closes for a snowstorm. Employees returned to work the next day, but were off on January 26 as a result of the aftermath of the storm. The National Zoo closed for an additional half day on the 25. In order to care for the animals, at least two zookeepers slept in the Antelope House during the storm. The storm also canceled the Board of Regents meeting.
1995-96: On January 7, 1996, a blizzard hit Washington, D.C., and shut the federal government for three days. Smithsonian employees, anxious to get back to work after a government-wide furlough that kept them home from December 16, 1995 to January 5, 1996, did not return to work until January 11. The next day, Friday the 12, snow kept employees home another day. Normal operations resumed on Monday, January 15, 1996.
For historical images of the Smithsonian and Snow please click here.
For images of the most recent storms published by Alex di Giovanni on e-Torch please click here.
*Pictured: A man surrounded by the snow in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian “Castle,” circa 1920.
Courtney Esposito, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Institutional History Division


  1. Other colleagues of mine were all debating the previous worst blizzard for federal employees, and all had different opinions. Thank you SI Archives for settling this debate with your thorough snow history!

  2. What happened during the blizzard of 1966?

  3. After snowing the over the weekend (January 29 and 30, 1966) A Washington Post article from Monday, January 31, 1966 states: "Except for emergencies, Federal and District Government employees are excused from reporting for work this morning." Later in the day officials excused employees for the entire day. Thus, non-essential Smithsonian staff members, who were federal employees, were excused from work. I haven't found any information thus far on whether the Museums were closed that day or not. However, I did learn that the Zoo was closed until at least February 2, 1966. Several Zookeepers stayed at the Zoo to care for the animals.