9 Dec 2015

Will it be a white Christmas this year?

With Christmas just over two weeks away, the very mild weather so far this December has felt far from festive, following on from the third warmest November on record for the UK.

Rain, gales and flooding have been more common than snow, which has generally been confined to the hills and mountains in the north.

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

seeing red in white

So what is 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 54 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 Robinremarkable, 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.

Christmas day 2013 was windy rather than white, with gales across much of the country – a trend that persisted through the whole winter.

2014 failed to deliver snow on Christmas day, with temperatures a little above normal and most places fine with sunshine.

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.


What about Christmas 2015?

A fast-moving jet stream moving from west to east at 30,000ft above the Atlantic Ocean has been sitting over or south of the UK so far this December.

This has developed and catapulted stormy weather towards us, keeping the UK wet, windy and mild, as opposed to there being any notable cold and snow.

Christmas tree in a forestHowever, there are signs that the jet stream will slow down and, at times, meander further north and south from mid-month onwards.

This would reduce the chance of getting stormy weather and also allow a greater chance of colder interludes to affect us.

Whilst it is too early to give an accurate forecast for Christmas Day itself, if one of these colder interludes were to coincide with Christmas Day, then there could be some snow.

If you ask me though, I think that Christmas this year is more likely to be green than white – but time, as always, will tell.

Tweets by @liamdutton