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Will there be a White Christmas?

Will there be a white Christmas this year? Go ahead and read the almanac, but you won’t see a reliable forecast until the last few days leading up to Christmas. In the meantime, you can learn about the odds for yuletide snow. Data collected by the government over four decades gives you a good idea whether your corner of America stands a chance at seeing snow on Dec. 25.

In 1995, the government agency known as the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released a report detailing percentage probabilities of snowfall of 1 inch or more for major cities in all 50 states. The data was based on snowfall records from 1961 through 1990. It also noted the probability for minimum snowfall of 5 inches and 10 inches for the same U.S. cities.

The probabilities detailed in this report are obvious in some instances, and surprising in others. The greatest odds for snow accumulation are concentrated on a relatively slim band of the country, spanning the distance from Maine to Montana. All areas of these states, and those between them along the northern portion of the country, stand at least a 61 percent chance of being covered with at least an inch of snow on Christmas Day. The states in the southern third of the country, and the Pacific coast, on the other hand, face white Christmas odds of less than 20 percent. Areas lying within the rocky mountain range are an exception.

Upon closer examination, we learn from the NCDC report that you have the greatest chance of enjoying a white Christmas if you live in Marquette, Mich., Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Hibbing Minn., International Falls Minn., and Stampede Pass, Wash. Those cities boast a white Christmas probability of 100 percent, according to the data. Not even Anchorage, Alas., has odds that good; the city trails behind, with a 90-percent chance of seeing at least an inch of snow on Christmas Day. Stampede Pass is blasted with the most snow, statistically speaking. This city nestled in the Cascade Mountains also stands a 100-percent chance of seeing at least five inches of snow, and a 96-percent chance of being hit with at least 10 inches of snow for Christmas Day.

People who prefer to set up flocked Christmas trees rather than experience actual snowfall have plenty of places to take refuge. Dallas, Tx., Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., San Diego, Calif., and the entire state of Florida stand virtually no chance of seeing white Christmases, with snowfall probabilities of zero. There have been flukes, of course, bringing a fresh blanket of snow to the most unlikely regions. A Christmas Eve snowstorm in 2004 gave New Orleans, La. its first white Christmas in 50 years. The same storm brought Houston, Tx., its first recorded Christmas snowfall in history, while a Florida snowstorm just before Christmas 1989 brought cities like Jacksonville and Pensacola an almost unheard-of, Floridian white Christmas.

Now for some not-so-obvious Christmas Day snowfall trends. Massachusetts suffers through harsh winters almost every year, but the NCDC calculated that Boston only stands a 23-percent chance of experiencing a white Christmas. Though there are plenty on the books, cumulative snow fall generally holds off until January. Portland Ore., far from a mild weather haven and just outside the treacherous Cascade Mountains, has just a 1-percent chance of being hit with Christmas day snow. Though there is definite potential for snowfall in this northwestern city, heavy rain is more likely, thanks to warm and cold air flow patterns from the Pacific Ocean and Cascades that rarely collide at the right moment for snow.

Artificial Christmas trees and other fake greenery give people in warm climates a little taste of a white Christmas they’d otherwise miss out on, with popular items like flocked trees, flocked garland, and flocked wreathes widely available to consumers. It seems that northern folks aren’t the only ones who dream of a white Christmas, judging by the popularity of these Christmas decorations. The notion of a White Christmas is an American tradition, was perhaps spread by the favorite Christmas ballad, “White Christmas,” written by famous songwriter Irving Berlin. It was first performed by singer Bing Crosby for the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.” The song etched the ideal Christmas scene in the minds of generations of Americans. Ironically, Berlin was Jewish!


About Philip Travers