White Christmas? Probably Not.

Pat Guinan
State Climatologist
Commercial Agriculture/University of Missouri Extension

Even though Bing Crosby loved to croon about a "White Christmas", most of the Christmases across the United States come in a shade of brown. The elusive "White Christmas" is mostly confined to regions of the upper Midwest, extreme Northeast, western mountainous terrain and, of course, Alaska. In these areas, the probability of a White Christmas exceeds 90% (Figure 1.) Generally, the probabilities rapidly drop as you move southward through the United States dwindling to less than a 5% probability when you reach a latitude of 36 north, or pretty much south of a line extending from northern North Carolina, to northern Arkansas to southern California. Overall, about 30% of the U.S. population has a 0% probability of experiencing a White Christmas.

The official definition of a White Christmas is when 1-inch or more of snow is on the ground on Christmas Day. Here in Missouri, the probability of a White Christmas varies from 35% in a few northern border counties, to just over 20% in central portions, to only 10% over the far southern sections. Specifically, the following probabilities exist for a White Christmas to occur at the following locations in Missouri: Conception: 29%, Hannibal: 30%, Kansas City: 18%, Columbia: 23%, St. Louis: 19%, and Springfield: 13%.

Recently, we have experienced several mild winters in Missouri with below normal snowfall. December 2000 is the only exception when that month turned out to be our second coldest December on record. December 2000 was also the last time most Missourians experienced a White Christmas. On December 25, 2000, much of the state, with the exception of the Bootheel, was covered by a 3-6 inch blanket of snow. Its too early to tell what this year has in store for Christmas Day but forecasts of a moderate El Nino to continue into the winter season does not forebode well for a White Christmas in Missouri. Typically, moderate El Nino years during the winter in Missouri translate to below normal snowfall for the region.