The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s how likely it is that you’ll see a white Christmas

Snow is blown across Vail Mountain on Dec. 8 in Vail, Colo. While places like Vail are likely to see a white Christmas, much of the nation is not. (Chris Dillmann/AP)
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I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., part of what locals semi-affectionately refer to as the “Snow Belt.” I have a lot of memories of snow from my childhood, walking home from school and hitting piles of it with sticks, playing in snow in the yard and, of course, having at least some expectation that we would once again be blessed with a white Christmas.

For those who don’t live in snowy areas, the appeal of this may be a bit baffling. But snow on Christmas does two things. It replaces muddy grass and barren trees with a nice, uniform (at least at first) blanket of white. And it creates a sense of coziness, wanting to stay inside that reinforces the spirit of the season.

It is therefore at about this time each year that we start keeping an eye out for the likelihood that the local Christmas will be white. Ten-day forecasts start extending out to Christmas on Wednesday. But the government, in a rare burst of social-media cleverness, has already produced a map that gets at the question.

So, without further ado: the likelihood of a white Christmas near you, based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) analysis of the past 30 years of weather.

That’s generally useful, but NOAA also went a bit further, producing an analysis of the likelihood of at least an inch of snow for each of its weather stations in the United States. (Or, at least, those that have enough historic data.) So we went ahead and made a little interactive. Hit the button below — and grant The Washington Post access to your phone or computer’s location — and see the likelihood that you’ll enjoy a white Christmas wherever you happen to be.

You may need to allow The Post to see your location by clicking a prompt. This data will not be stored or used for any other purpose.

To be fair, not everyone who is familiar with snow is necessarily enthusiastic about its arrival. My father, for example, a native of the Northeast, now lives outside Dallas. A lot more traffic, but a lot less shoveling.

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Some good news for those who dislike snow, if not the world at large: Fewer places in the United States are likely to see white Christmases in the future as the world grows warmer.

The NOAA’s calculations are based on its revised “climate normals” across the country. Released this year, those baseline measurements use data collected from 1991 to 2020, instead of the prior normals that used the years 1981 to 2010. That shift is significant: the past seven years before 2021 were the warmest years on record. And while the shift is subtle, you can see how the NOAA’s white Christmas map from years prior shows a more extensive likelihood of snowfall than does its current map.

Notice, for example, the retreat of blue from Kentucky, or the decrease of white in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

NOAA is up front about this shift, offering some words of caution in comparing the maps directly. For example, it notes that the only difference between the two periods is that the 1980s were swapped for the 2010s, meaning that two-thirds of the data used for the analysis remained the same. In other words, one would expect to see only modest shifts. It also notes that the map doesn’t capture climate change given that the maps don’t show warming in places where there was no snow in the first place.

Nonetheless: “More areas experienced decreases in their chances of a white Christmas than experienced increases” when the normals were updated.

Put another way, I’ll need to remember to revisit this analysis in 10 years’ time, when the NOAA again updates its data. And the odds are increasing, however slowly, that I’ll need to explain to my kids what a white Christmas looks like, instead of having them see for themselves.

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