Odds for a White Christmas this year?

Assessing snow chances in the next 21 days.

Tick, tock.

Most of Minnesota is snow-free just three weeks before Christmas. And our weather maps look mild again through most of next week. So, what are the odds for a white Christmas this year?

Bare ground

You can clearly see the bare ground across most of the Upper Midwest on Friday’s 1,000-meter resolution NASA MODIS Terra satellite shot.

NASA MODIS 1,000-meter visible satellite
NASA MODIS 1,000-meter visible satellite image Friday
NASA via University of Wisconsin-Madison

Historical chances

A white Christmas is defined as having at least 1 inch of snow cover on the ground Christmas morning.

The climatology of snow cover on Christmas Day for Minnesota strongly favors a white Christmas. Dating back to the late 1800s, the odds are 90 percent to 100 percent across most of northern Minnesota. It’s 72 percent in the Twin Cities and closer to 60 percent in far southwest Minnesota.

White Christmas probability
White Christmas probability
Minnesota DNR Climate Working Group

Will we have a white Christmas? It's an age-old question that occurs to almost everyone this time of year. The chances of having a white Christmas vary even here in Minnesota. Having a white Christmas is loosely defined as having 1 inch of snow on the ground on Christmas Day. The snow depth at most sites is measured once a day, usually in the morning. The best chances of having a white Christmas is almost guaranteed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a good part of the Arrowhead. The chances decrease to the south and west and the best chance for a "brown" Christmas is in far southwest Minnesota where chances are a little better than 60 percent. Northern Minnesota is one of the few non-alpine climates in the US where a white Christmas is almost a sure bet (U.S. White Christmas Probabilities).

In 120 years of snow depth measurements in Twin Cities, a white Christmas happens about 71 percent of the time. From 1899 to 2018 there have been 35 years with either a "zero" or a "trace." The last time the Twin Cities has seen a brown Christmas was 2018. 2015 was also a "brown Christmas." The deepest snow cover on December 25 was in 1983 with a hefty 20 inches. It was also a very cold Christmas in 1983, with the high temperature of 1 degree F. It was not the coldest Christmas Day in the Twin Cities. That dubious award goes to 1996 with a "high" temperature of 9 below zero F. The warmest Christmas Day in the Twin Cities was 51 degrees in 1922. There was not a white Christmas that year. In fact, the Minneapolis Weather Bureau log book for that day states that the day felt "spring-like."

Mild and dry next week

The medium-range forecast maps continue to favor mild and mostly dry weather across Minnesota through next week. Highs by next Wednesday will soar once again into the 50s across southwest Minnesota, possibly reaching the Twin Cities if this map is a little too conservative as I expect.

Forecast high temperatures Wednesday, December 9
Forecast high temperatures Wednesday, December 9

It looks safe to say that we won’t see any new snow through most of next week in the snow-free areas of Minnesota.

Snow chance December 13-14?

A few forecast models continue to sputter out a possible rain or snow system moving into the Upper Midwest around Sunday, Dec. 13. Here’s the Canadian model.

Canadian model output for midnight Monday December 14
Canadian model output for midnight Monday December 14
Environment Canada via tropical tidbits

A possible snow system late next weekend holds the best hope for a white Christmas across parts of Minnesota that currently have bare ground. Of course, confidence is low this far in advance, but at least the forecast models are indicating a chance for significant snow for parts of Minnesota before December 25.

Stay tuned.

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