White Christmas (weather)

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A white Christmas refers to the presence of snow at Christmas; either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day depending on local tradition. This phenomenon is most common in the northern countries of the Northern Hemisphere. Because December is in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere summer, white Christmases there are extremely rare, except in Antarctica, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island, and in parts of the Andes in South America. The Irving Berlin song, "White Christmas", sung by Bing Crosby from the film Holiday Inn, is the highest-selling single of all time and speaks nostalgically of a traditional, snow-covered Christmas.


White Christmas in Polish Sanok.

The definition of "White Christmas" varies. In most countries, it simply means that the ground is covered by snow at Christmas, but some countries have more strict definitions. In the United States, the official definition of a white Christmas is that there has to be a snow depth of at least 1 in or 2.5 cm at 7:00 a.m. local time on Christmas morning,[1] and in Canada the official definition is that there has to be more than 2 cm (0.79 in) on the ground on Christmas Day.[2] In the United Kingdom, although for many a white Christmas simply means a complete covering of snow on Christmas Day, the official definition by the British Met Office and British bookmakers is for snow to be observed falling, however little, (even if it melts before it reaches the ground) in the 24 hours of 25 December.[3][4] Consequently, according to the Met Office and British bookmakers, even 91 cm (3 ft) of snow on the ground at Christmas, because of a heavy snow fall a few days before, will not constitute a white Christmas, but a few snow flakes mixed with rain will, even if they never reach the ground. In the United Kingdom the most likely place to see snowfall on a Christmas Day is in North and North Eastern Scotland, in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire or the Highlands.[5]

Although the term 'White Christmas' is usually referring to snow, if a significant hail accumulation occurs in an area on Christmas Day, as happened in parts of Melbourne on 25 December 2011, due to the resulting white appearance of the landscape resembling snow cover, this can also be described as a White Christmas.[6]

White Christmases in Canada[edit]

In most parts of Canada it is likely to have a white Christmas in most years, except for the coast and southern interior valleys of British Columbia, southern Alberta, southern Ontario, and parts of Atlantic Canada – in those places Christmas without snow is not uncommon in warmer years, with the British Columbia coast the least likely place to have a white Christmas. The definition of a white Christmas in Canada is 2 cm (0.79 in) of snow-cover or more on Christmas morning at 7 am.[7]

Environment Canada released data that averages from 1955–2011 the chance of a White Christmas in several Canadian cities.[7]

Location Probability
Vancouver 25%
Victoria 11%
Kamloops 49%
Kelowna 61%
Penticton 28%
Prince George 91%
Calgary 56%
Edmonton 86%
Grande Prairie 84%
Medicine Hat 56%
Saskatoon 93%
Regina 91%
Winnipeg 98%
Brandon 93%
Sudbury 95%
Windsor 46%
Toronto 36%
Ottawa 81%
Hamilton 61%
Kenora 100%
London 60%
Sarnia 61%
Thunder Bay 96%
Timmins 98%
Wiarton 82%
Montreal 77%
Quebec City 98%
Fredericton 77%
Moncton 74%
Saint John 61%
Charlottetown 79%
Halifax 58%
St. John's 63%
Goose Bay 98%
Stephenville 82%
Whitehorse 100%
Yellowknife 100%
Iqaluit 100%

2006 saw some of the warmest weather on record, with such places as Quebec City experiencing their first green Christmas in recorded history.[8][9][10]

In 2008, Canada experienced the first nationwide white Christmas in 37 years, as a series of pre-Christmas storms hit the nation, including the normally rainy BC Pacific coast.

White Christmases in the United States[edit]

In the United States, there is often – but not always – snow on the ground at Christmas in the northern states, except in the Pacific Northwest, with the northern Plains the most likely to see snow on the ground at Christmas. Some of the least likely white Christmases that have happened include the 2004 Christmas Eve Snowstorm, which brought the first white Christmas in 50 years to New Orleans and caused the first recorded white Christmas in Houston, Texas. The 2004 storm also brought the first measurable snow of any kind since 1895 to Brownsville, Texas, and its twin city of Matamoros, Mexico. The Florida winter storm of 1989 also occurred immediately before Christmas causing a white Christmas for cities like Pensacola and Jacksonville. The same storm buried Wilmington, North Carolina and the rest of Southeastern North Carolina under 38 cm (15 in) of snow.

In the United States the notion of a white Christmas is often associated in the American popular consciousness with a Christmas celebration that includes traditional observances in the company of friends and family. White Christmas is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting.

Probability of a white Christmas in the United States 1981-2010

According to the National Climatic Data Center, basing numbers upon 1988–2005 data and stations with at least 25 years of data, the probability of a white Christmas (1 in or 2.5 cm of snow on the ground) at selected cities is as follows:[1]

Location Probability
Anchorage, Alaska 90%
Annette Island, Alaska 17%
Fairbanks, Alaska 100%
Phoenix, Arizona 1%
Little Rock, Arkansas 3%
Los Angeles, California 1%
Denver, Colorado 50%
Hartford, Connecticut 57%
Wilmington, Delaware 13%
Washington, D.C. 5%
Savannah, Georgia 1%
Honolulu, Hawaii 0%
San Francisco, California 2%
Boise, Idaho 30%
Chicago, Illinois 40%
Indianapolis, Indiana 13%
Des Moines, Iowa 50%
Topeka, Kansas 23%
Louisville, Kentucky 13%
Portland, Maine 83%
Boston, Massachusetts 23%
Detroit, Michigan 50%
Marquette, Michigan 90%
Duluth, Minnesota 97%
St. Louis, Missouri 23%
Helena, Montana 67%
Omaha, Nebraska 44%
Reno, Nevada 20%
Concord, New Hampshire 23%
Newark, New Jersey 23%
Albuquerque, New Mexico 3%
Massena, New York 77%
New York City, New York 22%
Charlotte, North Carolina 5%
Fargo, North Dakota 83%
Cleveland, Ohio 60%
Akron, Ohio 60%
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 3%
Portland, Oregon 2%
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 10%
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 33%
Providence, Rhode Island 37%
Charleston, South Carolina 1%
Rapid City, South Dakota 47%
Nashville, Tennessee 12%
Amarillo, Texas 7%
Dallas, Texas 7%
Salt Lake City, Utah 53%
Richmond, Virginia 7%
Seattle, Washington 7%
Spokane, Washington 70%
Charleston, West Virginia 30%
Huntington, West Virginia 23%
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 60%
Wausau, Wisconsin 93%
Casper, Wyoming 47%

According to research by CDIAC meteorologist Dale Kaiser, the United States during the second half of the 20th century experienced declining frequencies of white Christmases, especially in the northeastern region.[11]

White Christmases in the United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, white Christmases were more common from the 1550s to the 1850s, during the Little Ice Age, but during the 20th Century there were only seven official white Christmases in England.

Although most places in the UK has some chance of seeing snow in the winter, it very rarely falls at Christmas (generally in January and February). However it does occur, with an average of seeing a White Christmas every 6 years. From 1950 to 2006, the percentage of years with a white Christmas in the UK was as follows:[12]

Location Probability
London 6%
Birmingham 15%
Aberporth 9%
Glasgow 35%
Aberdeen 53%
Belfast 22%
Lerwick 75%
Bradford 14% (since 1971)
St Mawgan 10% (since 1957)

Christmas 2009 was a white Christmas in some parts of Britain, with thick lying snow which easterly winds had brought over the previous week. Travel over much of Britain was badly affected by ice and snow on roads, and was made more slippery by partial daytime thaw followed by overnight refreezing. It was the first white Christmas anywhere in the United Kingdom since 2004.

White Christmases in Ireland[edit]

In Ireland, the prospect of early winter snow is always remote due to the country's mild and wet climate (snowfall is most common in January and February). Bookmakers offer odds every year for a white Christmas, which is officially lying snow being recorded at 09:00 local time on Christmas Day, and recorded at either Dublin Airport or Cork Airport (bets are offered for each airport). Snow is most common in the north, and, as such, Belfast usually has better odds than Dublin, and considerably better odds than Cork, which is at the extreme south of the country.

Since 1961, countrywide, snow has fallen on 17 Christmas Days (1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1980, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2009 and 2010), with nine of these having snow lying on the ground at 09:00 (1964, 1970, 1980, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2010). The maximum amount of lying snow ever recorded on Christmas Day was 27 cm (11 in) at Casement Aerodrome in 2010.

At Dublin Airport, there have been 12 Christmas Days with snowfall since 1941 (1950, 1956, 1962, 1964, 1970, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2000, and 2004). The statistical likelihood of snow falling on Christmas Day at Dublin Airport is approximately once every 5.9 years. However, the only Christmas Day at the airport ever to have lying snow at 09:00 was 2010 (although no snow actually fell that day), with 20 cm (7.9 in) recorded.[13]

White Christmases in Romania[edit]

Location Probability
Bucharest 75%
Iași 80%
Timişoara 70%
Cluj Napoca 85%
Constanţa 65%
Miercurea Ciuc 90%
Craiova 75%
Braşov 85%
Satu Mare 75%

White Christmases in other parts of Europe[edit]

In Europe, snow at Christmas is common in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic states, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland. In general, due to the influence of the warm Gulf Stream on European climate, chances of a white Christmas are lower the further west. For example, in southern France a white Christmas is very rare, while in Bucharest, Romania, which is at a similar latitude, it is much more likely. The Italian mountain regions and colder towns and cities in the northern part of the country may also have a white Christmas.

Southern Hemisphere[edit]

Because Christmas occurs during the summer in the Southern hemisphere, white Christmases are especially rare events there, apart from Antarctica which is generally uninhabited. In 2006, a snowstorm hit the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales and Victoria, arriving on Christmas Morning and bringing nearly 30 cm (12 in) of snow in higher areas.[14] This was an especially rare event because it occurred during Australia's typically warm summer. In New Zealand's Southern Alps snow can fall any day of the year and a white Christmas is very possible. A white Christmas in the southern hemisphere (specifically those close to Antarctica) is approximately equivalent to having snow in the northern hemisphere on June 25, and in some ways is even less likely because the Northern Hemisphere has population centers farther from the equator than does the Southern Hemisphere.


  1. ^ a b "White Christmas?". National Climatic Data Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  2. ^ "Chances vary for a white Christmas". CBC News. 24 December 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  3. ^ "Will it be a white Christmas?". Met Office. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  4. ^ "William Hill press release: "£1 Million Riding On A Flake Of Snow!"". Retrieved 2010-12-25. [dead link]
  5. ^ Rowley, Martin (26 December 2011). "Meteorology West Moors: Snow at Christmas in the United Kingdom". Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  6. ^ "Galleries: A White Christmas in Melbourne". Herald Sun. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  7. ^ a b "Chance of White Christmas". Environment Canada. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "White Christmas only in most Canadians' dreams". CBC News. 21 December 2006. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  9. ^ "Title unknown". CTV News. Retrieved 2012-11-11. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Ontario Weather Review - December 2006". Environment Canada. 3 January 2007. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  11. ^ Dye, Lee (18 December 2003). "Study: White Christmases Have Become Rare". ABC News. [dead link]
  12. ^ "National Meteorological Library" (pdf). Retrieved 2009-12-13. [dead link]
  13. ^ Met Éireann - Snowfall in Ireland
  14. ^ "Aussies celebrate white Christmas. 25 December 2006.". ABC News. 25 December 2006. Retrieved 2013-04-03. 

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