At a Glance
- A white Christmas is defined as 1 inch of snow on the ground on the morning of Dec. 25.
- Areas near the Canadian border and in the mountains of the West have a higher chance of seeing a white Christmas.
- In 2017, just under half of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground Christmas morning.
A white Christmas is on the wish list of many, but this year's odds are looking slim unless you live in the Rockies or the northern tier of the United States.
In meteorology, a white Christmas occurs when there is at least 1 inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning. It doesn't have to be snowing on the holiday for that to happen.
While many areas of the U.S. have already seen snow this season, including parts of the South, much of that snowpack has already melted.
So who is most likely to unwrap presents in the presence of snow?
Current indications point to a likely white Christmas in the northern and central Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. A white Christmas is also likely in northeastern North Dakota, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as in northern New England and east of Lake Ontario in New York state.
A white Christmas is possible from southern New England to parts of the interior Northeast, Appalachians, Great Lakes, upper Midwest and the mountains of the West.
How Typical Is a White Christmas?
The map below shows the locations with the historical best chance for a white Christmas in any given year. The chances are based on climatological averages from 1981-2010.
You may be surprised to see there isn't a lot of territory outside the Mountain West, northern New England and the far northern tier where the odds of a white Christmas are greater than 50 percent.
Last year was the perfect example of that. The Lower 48 experienced the most widespread Christmas snow cover in five years even though just under 50 percent of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground early Christmas morning, according to an analysis from NOAA's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC).
This was a slight increase compared to 2016, when 44 percent of the contiguous U.S. was covered by snow Christmas morning. Snow cover in 2016 was generally in typical areas unlike in 2017 when snow reached a bit farther south.
On average, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states has snow on the ground on Christmas, according to 15 years of data compiled by NOAA's NOHRSC. Since 2003, those percentages have varied widely from year-to-year, from just over 21 percent in 2003 to a whopping 63 percent of the contiguous U.S. in 2009.
Regional Historical Odds
Here are various white Christmas statistics, including the yearly probability, the number of white Christmases in each city's historical record and the last white Christmas. All statistics are courtesy of the National Weather Service.
The annual probability is based on the 30-year average from 1981-2010.
The most snow on the ground Christmas morning was 19 inches in Albany, New York (in 1966), and Buffalo, New York (in 2001). Philadelphia has seen up to a foot of snow on the ground on Christmas (in 1966) while 7 inches is the top snow depth in Washington D.C. (in 2009).
Burlington, Vermont, and Caribou, Maine, have seen more than 30 inches on the ground Christmas morning. The greatest snow depth in Boston on record is 11 inches (in 1995).
The top snow depth on record for Christmas morning in Milwaukee is 25 inches (in 2000) and the record in Chicago is 17 inches (in 1951).
Duluth, Minnesota, and Pierre, South Dakota, have seen more than 2 feet of snow on the ground on Christmas and the record in Wichita, Kansas, is 4 inches (in 2007).
The highest snow depth on Christmas morning in Tahoe City, California, is 52 inches (in 1970) and Denver's record is 24 inches (in 1982).
Last year, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, both experienced their sixth white Christmas on record. Seattle measured 2 inches of snow on the ground Christmas morning. Only 2008 and 1965 had more snow on the ground in Seattle than Christmas 2017
The greatest snow depth measured on Christmas was in 1963 in Memphis (10 inches) and Nashville (6 inches).
Yes, It Has Happened in the South
Christmas snow cover isn't just a northern thing. Some years, parts of the southern U.S. have marveled at the sight of a white Christmas.
In 2017, a trace of snow was observed on the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Three relatively recent events brought an unusual Christmas Day snow cover to parts of the South:
- In 2009: Oklahoma City's snowstorm of record (13.5 inches) and one of only two white Christmases on record in Dallas (2 inches).
- In 2004: Corpus Christi, Texas record snowstorm (4.4 inches) brought the first day of measurable snow since 1895 to Brownsville, Texas (1.5 inches), which is at the same latitude as Miami.
- In 1989: A pre-Christmas snow followed by a bullish arctic cold outbreak brought both Charleston, South Carolina (4 inches), and Savannah, Georgia (2 inches), their only white Christmases. Jacksonville, Florida, missed a white Christmas by one day, with an inch of snow on the ground Christmas Eve morning.