The Whitest of Christmases and Other Christmases Past
By: William R Deedler, National Weather Service White Lake/Pontiac Mi
Date: Monday Dec 20th, 2010
Frequently during the Christmas Season, meteorologists are asked; Are we going to have white Christmas? Usually the chance of a white Christmas across all of Southeast Lower Michigan is around 50 percent. Generally, it is agreed among meteorologists that in order to "officially" have a white Christmas, an average of an inch of snow must cover the ground, but not necessarily have to fall on Christmas.
Much of the region can look for a white Christmas this year with the snow already in place (along with little melting expected) and temperatures in the 20s on Christmas Day. Officially, an inch of snow must cover the ground at 7am on Christmas morning for it to be deemed a "white" Christmas.
Last Christmas /2009/ residents across the Detroit area did not have a white Christmas. Further north, however, across Flint and the Saginaw Valley into the Thumb Ragion there was a white Christmas with generally 1 to 3 inches on the ground. In 2008, we saw a “sloppy, melting white” Christmas. That white Christmas involved the melting of a heavy snow cover from past snows that accumulated throughout December. The worst of the snowstorms came before Christmas on the 19th (with another, lesser intense snow falling on the doorstep of Christmas, 23rd -24th). After, however, the heavy snow cover melted in earnest as milder air overspread the region Christmas Eve right through the 26th. Christmas of 2007, saw temperatures rise into the mid 40s to mid 50s a couple of days days prior to Christmas and that, combined with light rain, pretty much took care of any hopes for a white Christmas as then, like last Christmas, a previous heavy snow cover melted (but this time its entirety before Christmas). Some scattered light snow did return, skirting the landscape on Christmas Eve but most areas around Southeast Lower Michigan still only had a trace of snow for Christmas. Here at White Lake and Saginaw, however, we barely made the official inch to be considered white locally in 2007.
Further back, Christmas of ‘06, was also mild and therefore, there was no white Christmas. Back in 2005, we just barely squeaked out a white Christmas (at Detroit Metro Airport, anyway) as a mild spell moved in just before Christmas along with rain, melting the snow down from 4” to 1” by Christmas. Originally, there had been 8” of snow on the ground on the 15th.The last really scenic (no slop) white Christmas occurred in 2004. A snowstorm brought heavy snow (ranging from 8.0” at Detroit to around 4.0” in Saginaw and Flint) on the 23rd, which left the region with a nice white cover for Christmas. It was also a cold Christmas with highs only in the teens and lows overnight below zero.
Looking over historical weather records of Christmases past since 1900, a wide range of weather conditions were found. While most people would like to believe that Christmas in the
The snowiest Christmas (most snow falling on Christmas), occurred in 1915 when 6.4 inches fell with a snow depth of seven inches on the ground. The timing of this snowfall was impeccable for Christmas with it actually starting Christmas Eve around sunset. Then, it continued to snow through the night into Christmas day. Actually, even more than the 6.4 inches fell from the entire storm with an additional 1.6 inches falling on Christmas Eve. This gave a snowstorm total of eight inches. A little light rain did mix with the snow during the forenoon hours of Christmas but with a high temperature of only 33, it did little to mar the "Christmas card" scene.
Speaking of "Christmas card" scenes, another heavy wet snowfall blanketed the area just after the turn of the century early on Christmas in 1901. The scene is described in the historical weather books as follows;
"Night of the 24 - 25 cloudy; moist snow continued,
heaviest between hours of 1:30 and 4:30 am, ended
at 6 am. amount of precipitation .62 inches. The
street cars ran all night to keep the tracks open.
the snow adhered to trees etc, and made a very
beautiful scene. Depth of snow on ground at 8 am,
The last few Christmas's /2002 and 2003/ the weather was similar to both of the white Christmases mentioned above (1901 and 1915). Here again, snow started falling Christmas Eve and lasted into at least part of, if not all of Christmas Day. Last Christmas, snowfalls ranged from at least an inch in the far southeast corner of Lower Michigan to as much as six inches across Detroit's northern suburbs, extending northward across
Probably one of the slushiest and sloppiest Christmas Days happened in 1973. What started out as a white Christmas with a heavy 7 inch snow cover, quickly melted to a meager 2 inch slush mess by nightfall. To add insult to injury, it rained nearly a half an inch during the day.
The wettest Christmas on record occurred in 1945 when 1.16 inches of rain fell. The rain actually began Christmas Eve as a light freezing rain and continued freezing until nearly dawn on Christmas, when the temperature pushed above freezing. Until the ice melted, a few tenths of an inch of ice coated everything by Christmas dawn. Needless to say, walking and driving early the Christmas of 1945 was treacherous but Santa was in and out of town in a flash!
Without a doubt, and still in the memories of long term inhabitants of Southeast Lower Michigan, is the warmest Christmas on record, the Christmas of 1982. It was as though the whole area was shipped to
Ironically, the bitterest cold Christmas came just a year later in 1983! Maybe a payback from Mother Nature for the warm weather we were treated to, the Christmas past? The temperature plummeted Christmas eve to a record low of -9 at Detroit and was accompanied by a stiff west wind averaging 25 to 30 mph, creating life threatening wind chills at times of near 40 below zero! Santa certainly brought the North Pole with him the Christmas of 1983, when he made his rounds very early that morning. In addition to the record low Christmas eve, another record low /-10/ was established during the very early morning hours of Christmas.
These Christmases past discussed are more the extreme than the norm across extreme
As Christmas Day approaches, stay tuned to the NWS forecasts and NOAA Weather Radio for the latest weather updates for the holiday week.
And now, for all the personnel at the National Weather Service in White Lake MI (Detroit/Pontiac), I'd like to wish all who read this a very Merry Christmas and the best in 2011! Keep abreast of all weather information on our Web page and NOAA Weather Radio in 2011.