Who doesn’t like the idea of Christmas spent in a cosy home, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and snow gently falling outdoors?
Thanks to the efforts of Hollywood and the greetings card industry, we tend to be hopeful of snowfall over the Christmas period, but the truth is that in this country, it’s becoming a rarer occurrence.
What is a White Christmas?
The Met Office says that a White Christmas is defined as occurring if one snowflake is observed falling somewhere in the UK during the 24 hours that make up Christmas Day. In other words, if there is three feet of snowfall on Christmas Eve but not a single flake falls on December 25 – even if snow is still lying on the ground from the day before – then it has not been a White Christmas.
In the past the Met Office judged whether one had occurred based on snowfall near their old London base. Now, with betting on a White Christmas having become common, several locations are monitored including Buckingham Palace, Coronation Street in Manchester, and sites in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
How often do we see a White Christmas in the UK?
Although 38 of the last 54 years have seen snowfall somewhere in the nation, they’re actually getting rarer. Climate change has marginally increased worldwide temperatures over the last couple of centuries, and the last time we officially had a White Christmas was in 2010.
That was a particularly unusual year, as not only was there snow on the ground at 83% of weather stations - the highest amount ever recorded - but snow or sleet also fell at 19% of them.
How likely is a White Christmas?
Generally speaking, snow is less likely to occur in December than between January and March, with snow or sleet falling on an average of 3.9 days in the last month of each year. We’re also unlikely to be blanketed with snow - there has only been four occasions in the last 51 years where more than 40 percent of weather stations in the UK reported snow on the ground at 9am.
So, will we see a White Christmas this year?
A few bookmakers are beginning to offer odds on whether it will be a White Christmas at various UK and Irish airports. Manchester is currently the most likely destination for snow at 5/2; Dundee is priced at 3/1 with some bookies.
Unsurprisingly, the part of the UK that’s most likely to get a White Christmas is the north and north-east of Scotland. A few weather sites have been doing some long-range forecasting; these predict some snowfall on the 22nd and 23rd December and possibly even on Christmas Eve… unfortunately, as they see it, snow on Christmas Day looks unlikely at present.
However, the Met Office – which will only offer a detailed forecast five days in advance – has given us some hope, saying the UK is about to be plunged into the icy grips of La Niña, a weather phenomenon that could produce freezing temperatures across the country. Whether that lasts until Christmas though, remains to be seen.