17 Dec 2013

Will it be a white Christmas?

During the past few days, I’ve had more and more people asking me whether or not it is going to be a white Christmas this year.

There’s no doubt that many of us dream at the prospect of having snow on Christmas day to add to the festive mood, but the reality is that it doesn’t happen often – especially in southern parts of the UK.

Before I look ahead at the chance of snow over the festive period this year, I thought I’d take a look back at how often we’ve has a white Christmas in the past.


But first, 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 past

Looking back at capital cities in the UK during the last 53 years (since 1960), a white Christmas has occurred on the following 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 north east England having more than 50cm of snow lying on the ground early in the month.

Nowhere experienced a white Christmas in 2011, as it was very mild everywhere, with temperatures as high as 15C in eastern Scotland. Christmas 2012 had a distinct lack of the white stuff too.

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

Statistically, snow is more likely to fall between January and March than December. Sleet or snow falls on average for just five days in December, in comparison to 7.6 days in January, 6.8 days in February and six days in March.

The map below from the Met Office shows that during December, 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 about this Christmas?

The weather in the run-up to Christmas day is going to be very unsettled, with a fast-moving jet stream catapulting low pressure after low pressure towards the UK.

This means that as well as heavy rain, there’ll be gales or severe gales at times, which may cause some disruption to travel – worth bearing in mind when making travel plans.

girl_puddle_g_wpWith the weather so unsettled, it is hard to make a call on the weather for Christmas day this year, because the presence of any colder air will depend on the exact paths of low pressure systems, for which there is a high level of uncertainty.

Therefore, I think that for most of us a white Christmas is unlikely, with rain more likely than snow.

However, I do think that there is a chance of some wintry showers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England on Christmas day – especially over the hills.

So, I’ll go for a low (30 per cent) chance that a flake of snow will fall at Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Belfast.

Don’t forget, you can get the latest forecast on the Channel 4 Weather website. I’ll also be posting updates on Twitter – @liamdutton

Tweets by @liamdutton