Memorable Winter Storms: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” Bing Crosby famously sang.  For some, a white Christmas has a good chance of becoming reality, while others will keep on dreaming. The chances of getting snow on Christmas Day vary across the country.  Some areas have a 100 percent chance every year; others have  zero percent chance.

Below, read about some memorable Christmas Eve and Christmas Day winter storms, as well as the chances for at least one-inch of snow on Christmas Day in selected cities.

Click here to see what the white Christmas chances are for your city. Percentages are based on 30-year snow depth averages from 1961-1990.



1776: Christmas Day Storm

Probably the most unforgettable event that happened during 1776 was the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4.  However, another unforgettable event occurred later in the year.  During the American Revolution, George Washington gathered an army to cross the Delaware River on Christmas Day to surprise a Hessian force that occupied Trenton, New Jersey.  Prior to crossing the river, the Mid-Atlantic was hit with a major winter storm – an unexpected twist – making the trek more difficult for Washington’s army.  The snowstorm affected a wide geographical area from North Carolina to New York.  Around two feet of snow fell on Virginia and Maryland, but farther north in New Jersey, the snow changed over to sleet and freezing rain.

One of Washington’s staff was quoted as saying, “The storm is changing to sleet and cuts like a knife.”  Soldiers marched through the snow with no shoes and rags wrapped around their feet.  A total of almost 12 inches of snow and sleet fell on Trenton with recordings of 21 inches at Monticello and 24 to 30 inches in Northern Virginia and Central Maryland.  Despite the hazardous conditions, George Washington and his crew were victorious.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

1969: Post-Christmas Storm

A major storm tracked its way up the east coast on the night of December 25, 1969, just  days after a foot of snow had already fallen on December 22.  The December 25 storm traveled north and stalled off the New England coast.  After it finally left on December 28, a total of over 26 inches fell on Albany, New York. An impressive 30 inches fell on Burlington and 44 inches on Waitsfield in Vermont.  It took several weeks for some city streets to be cleared of the snow.

Burlington’s chance of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: 77 percent.

(Image courtesy of NOAA.)

1987: Tucson Snow

Tucson, Arizona does not see many white Christmases, let alone many snow days.  But, up to three inches of snow fell on Christmas Day in 1987 – the first white Christmas in Tucson since 1916.

Tucson’s chance of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: Three percent.

1989: Jacksonville White Christmas

On December 23, 1989, Arctic air plunged into northern Florida and changed rain into snow in Jacksonville.  Snow totals of several inches were left on the ground in some areas on Christmas Eve and were still there the next day, giving the city of Jacksonville its first white Christmas.

Jacksonville’s chance of receiving one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: Zero percent.

2001: Buffalo Christmas Eve Snowstorm

Buffalo is no stranger to snow, having seen its fair share of winter storms.  Buffalo lies on the far northeastern edge of Lake Erie, with Lake Ontario and Lake Huron not too far away. Because of its location, the city receives a lot “lake-effect snow” that occurs when cold air moves over warm waters that provide more energy and create more evaporation and clouds, resulting in precipitation on the leeward shores.  One lake-effect snowstorm that left its mark occurred back 2001.  The snowstorm began on December 24 and lasted until December 28.  The Buffalo-Niagara International Airport set a new snow depth record of 44 inches on December 28 and Buffalo set three daily snowfall records of 20.5 inches on December 24, 21.9 inches on December 27 and 26.2 inches on December 28.

All of this snow came after Buffalo didn’t see a single snowflake in November that year.

Buffalo’s chance of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: 57 percent.

(Image courtesy of NOAA)

2009: Oklahoma Christmas Eve Blizzard

When you think of states that have seen a white Christmas, Oklahoma might not be the first that comes to mind.  However, in 200, snow fell on Christmas Eve.  A powerful storm on December 24 with cold air from the north and Gulf of Mexico moisture from the south converged on the Southern Plains.  This record setting storm produced 4-8 inches of snow across Wichita Falls, Oklahoma City and Stillwater.  Some local snow totals exceeded 10 inches, including single day snowfall records for Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls.  Whiteout conditions from 40-60 mile per hour wind gusts created reductions in visibility to less than 100 feet.  Wind drifts created snow depths up to three feet deep.

Oklahoma City’s chance of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: Three percent.

(Satellite image on December 25, 2009 courtesy of NASA.)

2010: Christmas Day Snowstorm in Georgia and the Carolinas

Snow has fallen at some point in every state and Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina got to see snow on Christmas Day in 2010.  In late December 2010, a low pressure center moved along the Gulf Coast, made its way north and dumped a significant amount of snow in the Southern Appalachian region.  On December 25 and 26, the storm left one to three inches of snow in northeast Georgia, upstate South Carolina and the southern Piedmont of North Carolina.  A total of four to eight inches were recorded in the foothills of North Carolina and the northwest Piedmont.   Counties in North Carolina along the Tennessee border were reported to have received more than 20 inches of snow.

Atlanta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C. and Columbia, S.C. chances of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: Zero percent.

2009 & 2011: Denver Christmas Snowstorms

Buffalo isn’t the only U.S. city that experiences a lot of snow. Denver is another city that has had several white Christmases.  The most recent ones happened in 2009 and 2011. In December 2009, 7.8 inches fell during a four-day stretch from December 22-26.  This gave Denver its fourth white Christmas in a row.  In 2011, a storm hit the Denver area on the evening of December 21 and ended the next day.  Official snow totals for Denver after the storm were just over seven inches and the official snow depth on Christmas Day was three inches.

Denver’s chance of having one inch of snow on Christmas Day 2012: 50 percent.

(Sources: Ambrose, Kevin, et. al. “Washington Weather: The Weather Sourcebook for the D.C. Area.” Historical Enterprises. December 2002; NOAA, “Major Winter Storms,” http://www.erh.noaa.gov/aly/Past/WINTER.htm; NOAA, “Top 10 weather/water/climate stories to impact the Tucson metro area during the 20th century,” http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/twc/climate/20thcentury_top10wx.php; Florida Climate Center, “Winters,” http://climatecenter.fsu.edu/topics/winters; NOAA, “Buffalo Storm Sets New Snowfall Records in December,” http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories/s848.htm; NOAA, “Denver’s Christmas Weather,” http://www.crh.noaa.gov/bou/?n=xmassnow2010; NOAA, “A Review of the December 24, 2009 Christmas Eve Blizzard,” http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/?n=events-20091224; NOAA, “Christmas Day 2010 Snowfall,” http://www.erh.noaa.gov/gsp/localdat/cases/2010/white_Christmas/Event_Review_Christmas_2010_Snow.pdf; NOAA, “NCDC White Christmas Statistics: Probability of White Christmas,” http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/?n=climate-whitechristmas)

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