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You're Dreaming of a White Christmas?
What are the odds?
Sure, your Christmas is going to be merry, but will it be white? The answer (as to so many questions in life) is that it depends. But even for Vermonters and Down Easters and those hearty souls in Michiganís Upper Peninsula, who by and large can count on it, the odds of a White Christmas are apparently not as good as they used to be.
The next time your grandfather or somebodyís great-uncle gets into the eggnog and starts waxing on about his youth and how he had to walk six miles to school in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways, bear in mind some part of that story may be true. The snow part. Life is still hard in lots of ways, but for most of us, it just doesnít snow like it used to.
All our old Christmas legends, from Ebenezer Scrooge to George Bailey, reached their epiphanies knee-deep in snow. Clement Moore piled so much white stuff on the ground in "The Night Before Christmas" (originally "A Visit from St. Nicholas") that the reflected moonlight lit up everything like high noon. Washington Irving spent his whole life in the snow, it seems, except for on Halloween.
In "It's a Wonderful Life," snow rises to the level of metaphor for reality itself. When his angel grants George's wish: "Send me back, Clarence! I want to live again!" it starts snowing on him. (Reality? What's reality to Hollywood? That scene at the dance, with the pool under the sliding gym floor, was shot in Beverly Hills, not Bedford Falls. Oh, and his mouth starts bleeding again, too. Well okay, that's real.)
But nowadays? In Merry Olde England, the inspiration for all those snowy-scened, quaint-little-villaged, bundledĖup-against-the-cold, rosy-cheeked-but-cheerful choralers-'neath-the-light-of-the-lamppost Christmas cards, they got only seven white Christmases in the entire twentieth century.
According to the Meteorological Office, snow actually fell on Christmas Day in London only in 1938 and 1978. The definition of a white Christmas there is when one snowflake falls on the roof of the London Weather Centre.
One flake? Are they desperate or what? Why, their entire Christmas Card industry is at risk!
That weather info comes from the Christmas Facts page of the British Life and Culture website, which relates other interesting information such as:
- the Christmas turkey was imported to France by the Jesuits and it is still known in some French dialects as a 'Jesuite''
- St Francis of Assisi introduced Christmas Carols to formal church services'
- Jingle Bells was actually written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas (just like "Over the River and Through the Woods").
For us here in the US, below is a picture worth 1,000 weather forecasts from NOAA Weather. It breaks out the White Christmas odds for the nation as a whole and also for your neck of the woods.
Conspiracy theorists on both sides of the Global Warming debate, sane or otherwise, please take note: whatever else is happening, it's still plenty cold enough to snow in winter in most places.
In fact, at this writing, a monster storm has just ripped through the middle of the country and whacked New England as well, so it's worth remembering that statistics donít mean much to the man who drowned in a river that was, on average, only three feet deep.
Ah, but will it all have melted by Christmas Day? Well, it will have in Charlotte. (It doesn't even rain here anymore.)
Here's a story that ran on the ABC News website in 2003. (Yeah, itís a couple of years old, but weíre talking long-term trends here.) It's reprinted here without their permission.
Study Finds Snow Has Become Rare at Christmas
Sat, Dec. 18, 2003
People who are still digging out from blizzard-like conditions earlier this month may find this hard to believe, but their chances of seeing a white Christmas in the years ahead are disappearing about as fast as hail stones hitting a hot griddle.
There has been a dramatic decline of the number of days of snowfall during the Christmas season over the past few decades, especially in the northeastern part of the United States. Warmer temperatures over that region have reduced the number of snow days by as much as 26 percent during the period of Nov. 25 to Dec. 24, while lots of folks are out hitting bricks trying to find that perfectly useless gift for grandpa.
The trend toward fewer days of snowfall has been documented by Dale Kaiser, a meteorologist in the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Kaiser studied the period from 1948, when the U.S. Historical Climate Network started collecting far more data on climate across the country, through 2001.
"We found significant decreasing trends in the number of snow days," Kaiser says. "Sometimes, it's like they turned off the spigot."
That's especially true for areas east of the Mississippi River, where 117 of 125 stations reported an average of five fewer days with snowfall. That may not sound like a lot, but some of those areas normally have few snowy days anyway, so five is a significant number, and the period covered by the study is only 30 days.
Conversely, an area encompassing the central Rocky Mountain states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, and extending eastward into Nebraska, experienced more days of snow during the same period. The popular ski resort areas around Provo, Utah, led the list with an average of 9.8 more snowy days, as if they needed it.
So, what's going on here? The results are consistent with global warming, but fewer snow days does not necessarily translate into less snow. A whole bunch of snow can fall in a single day, and that counts just as much as a thin dusting of flaky white stuff.
"One is not always going to follow the other," Kaiser says. One station in Colorado, for example, showed a significant increase in the number of snowy days, but no increase in the total amount of snow. Areas with fewer snowy days, however, are more likely to have less snow overall.
Kaiser suspects that the trend holds true only for the "transitional" periods when winter is coming in, or going out.
Temperatures since 1948 have warmed by several degrees during the "beginning and end of the winter season," he says, so it's less likely to get cold enough to snow. Instead, people in the northeast are more likely to get rain, turning whatever snow they have into slush. During the main winter season, however, it remains cold enough for weeks at a time, so no significant drop in snowy days is likely to occur.
Snow's Sure Spots Like most meteorologists, Kaiser is reluctant to blame the change on global warming, at least at this stage, but he comes pretty close.
"It's consistent with the big picture that we've been observing (warmer temperatures) and we have a pretty high degree of confidence that we will be observing in the future," he says.
Some areas of the northeast have had an overall warming trend of 2.7 degrees during the holiday period since 1948, Kaiser says, and thus fewer days with snow.
Kaiser examined the records from 613 weather stations across the country. He narrowed the study down to 260 stations in areas that usually get snow during the Christmas season. Of those stations, 197 had fewer days of snowfall compared to the average number of snowy days over the 30 day period.
In some areas, it's hardly worth getting out the snow boots anymore. Batavia, N.Y., led the list of areas with fewer snowy days, down an average of 12.5 days.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can't find snow if you really want it. Climatologist Keith Eggleston of Cornell University's Northeast Regional Climate Center looked at the same records and came up with what seems like a really safe prediction.
If you've just got to have snow, and you live in the northeast, head for Pinkham Notch, N.H., on the slopes of Mount Washington. That area was hit with 47 inches of snow during the Dec. 7 Nor'easter, and there's sure to be plenty left for Christmas.
If, on the other hand, snow just makes you lust after the banana belts to the south, don't send your complaints to me. I live in Alaska.
Lest you think the northern climes are exempt from White Christmas concerns, the following story just ran in Toronto, no stranger to winter precip and the occasional blast of biting cold.
White Christmas? Dream on
The Toronto Star
Dec 13, 2007 04:30 AM
Torontonians probably won't be walking in a winter wonderland come Dec. 25
'Sno joke: We're going to have a white Christmas. If we all pack up and move to Yellowknife, that is.
In Toronto, the odds we'll get a perfect day Ė with snow in the air and on the ground, as Environment Canada says Ė aren't much better than a snowball's chance in hell.
If we're prepared to settle for merely a white one, with at least 10 cm underfoot, chances are less than 50 per cent, says senior climatologist David Phillips. More chilling news to blame on climate change.
"Winters aren't what they used to be. They've warmed up. Now we're more likely to get the liquid stuff than the solid stuff," Phillips says, adding not only is there less chance of walking in a winter wonderland on Dec. 25, but the depth to which you'll sink is half what it used to be.
Mother Nature's fickle ways dampened holiday spirits in memorable fashion back in 1979. A five-day downpour left Santa and his "raindeer" sloshing through nearly 100 mm of water on city streets. There was so much flooding, the jolly old elf had to trade in his black boots for hip waders.
It was the opposite scene in 1872 when Torontonians' dream of a white Christmas turned into a nightmare of bone-chilling proportions. Icy, gale-force winds blasted 58 cm of snow into massive drifts in what became the city's greatest two-day snowfall on record.
If that doesn't make you green with envy, cast your eyes north or east. For the past 30 years, Yellowknife, Thunder Bay, Iqaluit and Quebec City have been blessed with piles of snow for the holidays.
It's all about location, according to meteorologist Geoff Coulson. North of Highway 7, predictions of a white Christmas are much rosier, thanks to colder temperatures and the lake effect. But in downtown Toronto, it's a toss-up between rain and snow, Coulson explains.
Since the first storm of the season last month, you'd think the odds of wintry weather when we want it would be better. But you'd be wrong.
"It's definitely looking better than last year" when Dec. 25 was dry, green and 2C, Coulson offers. But temperatures for the next 12 days are expected to hover around zero, a little milder than normal. And that could make all the difference between white and wet.
For Phillips, it's about nostalgia. "A nice fresh snow cover is as much a part of Christmas as tinsel and toys," he says. Even those who hate snow the rest of the year warm up to the sight "on that magical day."
So if snow falls, "embrace it," Phillips advises. It's melting fast.
So thatís the story. If all that makes you feel bad, consider this: While the Christ Child got shepherds in the fields and angels in the heavens, a nifty star overhead and expensive presents from some very impressive visitors from afar, He probably didnít get snow on the night of His birth.
It snows in Bethlehem only a couple of days of the year (around Christmas, too, so could have happened but probably didnít) Average December temperatures are in the 40s, sometimes dipping below freezing overnight.
A still larger obstacle is He probably wasnít born in December anyway. More like September or October, many scholars say. (See this link, to New Life Community Church, for an interesting reference.) Thatís why the flocks were still in the fields. Shepherds donít sleep outside around Bethlehem in December. Or ask their sheep to. Nothing to forage on then anyway. What would be the point?
So if the baby Jesus couldnít luck out with a White Christmas on His birthday, don't you feel bad if your Christmas dawns bright and clear, or even gray and rainy. Snow or no snow, it surely was Christmas that first year. And has been every year ever since. As the Grinch observed: ďIt came; it came just the same.Ē It will come to you and yours, too. Itís always a special time, regardless of the wind and weather.
"Have a holly, jolly Christmas
It's the best time of the year.
I don't know if there'll be snow,
But have a cup of cheer."
Hell, it's summertime in Australia. Drink up. Merry Christmas!