Northeast White Christmas Climatology

Posted: December 1, 2017, 1:10 am by abarney

Jingle bells, jingle bells... It's here, ladies and gentlemen! The winter holiday season has officially arrived! While there are a variety of holidays that people celebrate across the Northeast U.S., the most popular one we get questions about regarding snowfall is Christmas. Between snow globes and holiday songs depicting calm, snowy scenes of holiday cheer, who doesn’t want a White Christmas? So, in the spirit of the season, let's take a look at the climatology of White Christmases in the Northeast United States, and talk a little about your chances of seeing one (according to history).

First, let’s define what a White Christmas really is. The official definition of a White Christmas is described as having a snow depth on the ground of 1” or greater. This means that you don’t necessarily have to have a real-world snow globe in order to have an official "White Christmas". Climatology tells us that (unsurprisingly), the further north you go, the better chance you have of a White Christmas. Places like Boston and Hartford have seen them around 20-25% of the time. However, if you travel further south into the Mid-Atlantic, they only see a White Christmas around 10% of the time.

Graph showing percentage of years with a White Christmas and percentage of years with snow falling on Christmas day in the Northeast U.S. Dates for which data is available are shown.


However, much of the time for an official White Christmas, snow is on the ground from a previous storm, and not always from just the night before on Christmas Eve. A few may remember the December snowstorm of 2009, occurring on December 18-19 of that year. The storm left plenty across the region with significant snowfall, and some accumulation that did not melt lingered through Christmas Day.


 MODIS satellite image taken on December 24, 2009, several days behind a major Northeast snowstorm. (Courtesy UWisconsin/SSEC)


So, you may be thinking, "Hey! A White Christmas should have snow actually falling, not just snow on the ground! What gives?"

We get it. The official definition of a White Christmas may not feel like a true “White Christmas” to some, which is totally understandable. The image in your mind may be of snow on the ground, but due to snow actually falling on Christmas Day! In this case, you would be pleased to know that we took a look back and found that snow falling on Christmas is, for most places, more likely than having 1” or greater on the ground. In fact, around 30-35% of Christmas days in Boston and Hartford have seen flakes fly, while the statistics steadily decrease to only 15-25% as you head into New York City and across the Mid-Atlantic.

Whether you’re imagining a quiet holiday with falling snow on Christmas, or you’d rather avoid the white stuff due to travel concerns, we’ve got you covered. Stay tuned as we progress through the winter season to our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on the weather and when we'll see snow! Happy holidays from all of us here at WeatherWorks.

Recent Blogs

Wednesday Mar 20, 2019 by bmiller
Tuesday Mar 12, 2019 by chewitt