Understanding Your 'White Christmas' Forecast

snowy christmas tree
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The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for forecasters. In late fall, everyone wants to know whether the skies hold travel-friendly weather; but just one short month later, they're looking for the complete opposite—a white Christmas. 

What a "White Christmas" Really Means 

Most people interpret a "White Christmas" to mean there's snow both falling and already covering the ground on Christmas morning. But in reality, the definition is much less magical than that. As long as there's at least 1 inch of snow on the ground (whether it's freshly fallen or from last week's snowstorm) this qualifies as a White Christmas according to meteorologists. (For those in the U.K., if a single snowflake falls anytime on December 25, it is considered a white Christmas.)

Chances of a White Christmas 

To find out if your city will have snow on December 25, calculate your statistical chances based on how many White Christmases have occurred there in the past.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center's White Christmas probability map shows how often during the last three decades (1981-2010) White Christmases have occurred across the nation. Locations shaded dark gray have experienced 1+ inch of snow on the ground on December 25 less than 10 percent of the years within the 30-year period, whereas white shaded areas represent those that got snow 90 percent of those years

Check Your Extended Forecast Beginning in Mid-December

Have a White Christmas probability in the 0-10% range on the map above? Don't lose heart! Remember, these probabilities are only meant to tell you how likely your city and state is to see snow on Christmas Day. Actual conditions this year may vary widely from what this map shows since it's the current December weather pattern, not climatology, that has the final say-so. To learn what that weather pattern is shaping up to be, keep watch on forecast models and the temperature and precipitation outlooks for December provided by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. Once mid-December rolls around, start checking your local forecast. (Forecasts for Christmas Day should be more accurate at this date than they were at December's start.)

AccuWeather fans may also want to check their 45-day forecast for an early glimpse at their Christmas forecast. 

How Much Snow Is on the Ground Today?

Curious to see who's got a head start at a White Christmas? Check NOAA's National Snow Analyses snow depth map to keep track of snowfall across the nation on a daily basis.

When Was Your Last White Christmas?

Trying to remember when the last year you got snow on Christmas Day was? Here's how to find out.

Go to the desired National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office (WFO) website, then:

  1. Under Climate and Past Weather, select the Historical Records tab 
  2. Under Climate Data section select desired location
  3. Scroll down the page to the "Other Significant Data" box
  4. Click "Christmas Weather History/Data" link

Resources and Links:

NOAA Climate.gov Portal (2013, December 11). What are Your Chances for a White Christmas? Accessed December 5, 2014.