14 Dec 2012

What is the chance of a white Christmas?

As Christmas draws ever closer, I’ve had a lot of people asking me whether or not it is going to be a white Christmas this year. There’s no doubt that for most of us, the prospect of having a blanket of snow during the festive period is exciting – unless you’re travelling of course.

Before I take a look ahead at the latest trends for the festive period this year, I thought I’d take a look back at how often we’ve experienced a white Christmas in the past.

First of all, let me clear up the definition of a white Christmas. Most people tend to think that snow lying on the ground on Christmas day would count.

However, for the purpose of those placing and taking bets, it is defined as a single flake of snow (including mixed with rain) to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25 December. This observation also has to be made officially by a trained weather observer.

White Christmases in the past

Looking back at capital cities in the UK during the last 52 years (since 1960), a white Christmas has occurred on the following number of occasions;

Cardiff – 4 (in 1990, 1993, 2001 and 2004)

London – 6 (in 1964, 1968, 1970, 1976, 1996, 1999)

Belfast – 11 (in 1962, 1964, 1966, 1980, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2004)

Edinburgh – 11 (in 1926, 1963, 1968, 1980, 1986, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2010)

The last white Christmas was in 2010, when snow fell at 19 per cent of weather stations. Even more remarkable, was that 83 per cent of weather stations had snow lying on the ground – the highest ever recorded.

December 2010 was a cold and snowy for much of the UK, with some parts of Scotland and northeast England having more than 50cm of snow lying on the ground at the beginning of the month.

Nowhere experienced a white Christmas in 2011, as it was very mild everywhere, with temperatures as high as 15C in eastern Scotland.

Where, statistically, is most likely to have a white Christmas?

The graphic below, from the Met Office, shows the average number of days of with falling snow in December.

As would be expected, it shows that snow is more likely to fall the further north and the higher up you go. This ties in well with Belfast and Edinburgh being the capital cities with the greatest number of white Christmases since 1960.

Another fact that you may be surprised to hear, is that snow is actually more common at Easter than Christmas in the UK.

What are the chances this year?

The first point to highlight is that Christmas day is still two weeks away, so a lot can change between now and then.

However, at the moment, it looks like there’ll be a reservoir of cold air lingering across central and eastern parts of Europe, with sub-zero temperatures and snow.

But for the festive period, the jet stream lies over or just to the south of the UK, which puts us in the path of low pressure systems.

This would bring unsettled weather, with strong winds, mild air and average or above temperatures. As a result, rain is most likely, with snow probably confined to the hills and mountains in the north.

At the moment, the only way that I can see the chance of snow being increased, is if an area of low pressure tracks so far south that it drags in cold air across Europe on its northern edge.

Don’t forget, you can get the latest forecast on the Channel 4 Weather website and I’ll keep you updated on the prospects of Christmas day snow on Twitter – @liamdutton

Data source: Met Office

Tweets by @liamdutton

7 reader comments

  1. Mark W says:

    I reckon the map’s not quite precise enough.

    Where we live, between Derby and Nottingham, the chances of a White Christmas are a fair bit lower. We’ve got the River Trent about a mile from where I live, the River Soar about 1ΒΌ miles away and the River Derwent within five miles, along with various smaller rivers/brooks. We’ve also got a large coal-fired power station a couple of miles distant.

    These all act as a heating system. The result is that we’re very unlikely to give Bing Crosby anything to sing about and haven’t for some years.

    1. Philip says:

      Long Eaton? My Grandfather came from Durham & always argued that Loughborough was “semi-tropical” in the Winter by comparison.

    2. Tony says:

      I have to disagree with you Mark, I live on the Notts/Derbys boarder (about 13 miles from both county’s cities) and we had an official white Christmas in 2009; snow was already lying on the ground and as we walked home in the early hours of Chritmas Day snow was falling, this was recorded at Watnall weather station. It can happen.

  2. ashley haworth-roberts says:

    This self-congratulatory article, and the sceptical comments underneath it (and the responses by one of the journalists) may be of interest: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/364613/Daily-Express-a-sure-bet-come-rain-or-shine

    Last I heard, around a week ago, the Express were saying a ‘white Christmas’ was guaranteed…

  3. Steve Willis says:

    Interesting article. I’d love to see the snowfall map reproduced to show the competency of local authorities to deal with snow & ice.

    When I was a child of primary school age I remember chaos in Bristol caused by snow and ice. Bristol City Council responded, by telling us via TV, they would be better prepared next time. As part of this preparation the Council bought a load of snow plough equipment.

    The next time there was snowfall, we again experienced total chaos. Two inches of snow had fallen, but the snow plough equipment needed a minimum snowfall of four inches to be effective.

  4. Mark W says:


    If you’re 13 miles away from both Nottingham & Derby (‘Aynor?; Somercotes?; Keg’orth), you obviously won’t get quite the warming effect of the Trent we get in Long Eaton. That being said, I do accept that we could possibly get a technically white Christmas – I believe it only takes one observed snowflake to land!

    50 years ago I lived in Matlock, at the top of Matlock Bank. Now that WAS good for snow! In 1963 the snow was so hard packed on the road near us that most vehicles couldn’t get up – and the gritters didn’t try to. For kids with sledges, it was the Cresta Run all over again!

  5. Emma Lee-Potter says:

    I feel oddly sad that there’s unlikely to be a White Christmas this year – especially as I’ve written a novella about two weather forecasters, called… White Christmas!

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