- A White Christmas is defined as 1 inch of snow on the ground on the morning of December 25.
- Areas near the Canadian border and the higher western elevations typically have the best opportunity.
Christmas is approaching and hopes are growing that snow will cover the landscape for the holiday. But how likely is a white Christmas? For much of the lower 48, those odds may be lower than you think.
In meteorology, a White Christmas occurs when there is at least 1 inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning. It doesn’t have to be snowing on vacation for that to happen.
How typical is a white Christmas?
The map below shows the locations with a historical probability of a White Christmas in any given year. Chances are based on averages from 1991 to 2020.
There isn’t much territory outside of the Mountain West, Far North and Northern New England, where the odds of a White Christmas are over 50%.
Recent years are good examples of how limited snow cover can be on Christmas morning.
Christmas 2021 had the third lowest snow cover in the lower 48 states in the last 10 years, with only 26.6% of the contiguous United States experiencing a white Christmas. Snow cover was only found in the west and far north. This is not surprising given that December 2021 was the warmest December on record.
Christmas 2020 had the second least expansive Christmas snow cover since 2012, with only 26.5% of the lower 48 covered in snow. That snowpack extended farther south than is normally expected in the southern Appalachians.
Nearly half of the US had snow on the ground on Christmas morning 2017. That year, snow covered the Northern Tier as expected, reaching parts of the Central Plains, Midwest, and Northeast.
On average, about 37% of the lower 48 states have snow on the ground at Christmas, according to 19 years of data collected by NOHRSC. Since 2003, those percentages have varied wildly from year to year, from 21% in 2003 to a whopping 63% for the contiguous United States in 2009.
Regional Historical Odds
Below, we break down various White Christmas statistics, including the annual probability, the number of White Christmases in each city’s historical record, and the last White Christmas.
The annual probability is based on data from the National Weather Service from 1991 to 2020.
The most snowfall on the ground in Albany (1966) and Buffalo, New York (2001), on Christmas morning, was 19 inches. New York City has seen up to 8 inches on the ground at Christmas (in 1912), and 7 inches is the maximum depth of Christmas snow in Washington DC (2009).
Last Christmas, Albany and Syracuse had an inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning, making it an official White Christmas.
Burlington, Vermont and Caribou, Maine have had more than 30 inches of snow on the ground this past Christmas. In 2021, both locations experienced a white Christmas with 8 inches of snow on the ground in Caribou and 4 inches of measured snow in Burlington, where it even snowed a trace on Christmas Day.
The record snow depth in Boston on Christmas morning is 11 inches (1995). Concord, New Hampshire, has measured up to 26 inches in the ground (1970). Last Christmas, Boston had no snow, but Concord had 6 inches. Providence reported 2 inches, with a trace of snow falling on Christmas.
Milwaukee holds a record maximum snow depth of 25 inches (2000). The Chicago record is 17 inches (1951). The last White Christmas for both cities was in 2017. The last White Christmas in Cleveland (7 inches) and Detroit (one inch) was in 2020.
Most of the region didn’t see a white Christmas last year because snow was confined to the northern Great Lakes. Marquette, Michigan observed 5 inches of snow on the ground with a trail of snow falling at Christmas.
Duluth, Minnesota, and Pierre, South Dakota have had over 2 feet of snow on the ground this Christmas. There was no White Christmas in Pierre last year, but Duluth experienced a White Christmas with an inch on the ground. The record in Wichita, Kansas is 4 inches (2007). The last white Christmas there was in 2013.
In 2020, Minneapolis measured 8 inches of snow on the ground on Christmas morning. Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska also had a white Christmas in 2020.
The highest snow depth on Christmas morning in Tahoe City, California is 52 inches (1970). Denver’s record is 2 feet (1982). There has been no snow on the ground for the last four Christmases in Denver, but Tahoe City had 31 inches last Christmas.
Five years ago, Seattle and Portland experienced their sixth White Christmases on record. Seattle had 2 inches of snow that Christmas morning.
In Alaska, Anchorage and Fairbanks unsurprisingly saw a white Christmas last year, with 13 inches and 21 inches on the ground, respectively.
Yes, it has happened in the south
Christmas snow cover isn’t just a northern thing. Some years parts of the southern US have marveled at the sight of a white Christmas. But it’s been more than 10 years since a white Christmas was observed in most of the South.
The deepest Christmas snowfall in both Memphis (10 inches) and Nashville, Tennessee (6 inches) occurred in 1963.
In 2020, a White Christmas was observed in Knoxville, Tennessee, (2 inches) and Roanoke, Virginia (1 inch). Nashville had a trace of snow on Christmas Day 2020. Further west, Tulsa, Oklahoma, received a trace of snow in 2017.
Three relatively recent events brought unusual snow cover on Christmas Day to parts of the South:
-In 2009, Oklahoma City had a record snowstorm (13.5 inches) and one of only two White Christmases on record occurred in Dallas (2 inches).
-In 2004 in Texas, Corpus Christi had a record snowstorm (4.4 inches) and Brownsville (1.5 inches) had its first measurable snow day since 1895. Brownsville is at the same latitude as Miami, Florida .
-In 1989, a pre-Christmas snowfall was followed by a severe bout of arctic cold that brought both Charleston, South Carolina (4 inches) and Savannah, Georgia (2 inches) their only white Christmases. Jacksonville, Florida missed out on a white Christmas because an inch of snow fell on Christmas Eve morning. It had melted on Christmas day.
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on the latest weather news, the environment, and the importance of science in our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.