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White Christmas elusive in the Show-Me-State


Curt Wohleber
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-5409

Published: Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

Story source:

Pat Guinan, 573-882-5908

COLUMBIA, Mo.– If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you might want to either move north or reschedule your yuletide observation to January, despite recent snowfall across the state.

“We do have some white Christmases in Missouri, but for the most part the odds are against us,” said Pat Guinan, state climatologist with the University of Missouri Extension Commercial Agriculture Program. The winter storm that whitened much of Missouri Dec. 11-12 doesn’t do much to change those odds. Snow on the ground from that storm isn’t likely to last until Dec. 25.

In fact, for most of the United States, a white Christmas is the exception rather than the rule. Though snow can fall in some parts of all 50 states—including Hawaii, whose highest mountains receive snow in winter—about 30 percent of the people in the U.S. live in areas where there is basically zero chance of snow on Christmas.

“You have to go north to have a fairly good certainty of getting a white Christmas,” said Guinan, who defines a “white Christmas” as an inch or more of snow on the ground on Dec. 25. Light dustings don’t count.

To have a 90 percent or better chance of enjoying a white Christmas, you’ll be limited to the extreme Northeast, the upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountain states and, of course, Alaska, he said.

Still, the odds in Missouri aren’t too bad, especially across the state’s northern border, where you’ll see a white Christmas about once every three years on average. Across central Missouri it’s about once every five years, which translates to a 20 percent chance any given year. The state’s southernmost counties might see snow on Christmas only about once a decade.

The best chance for snow is in the first half of January, which is the coldest part of winter, Guinan said. If you’re not a stickler for tradition, you could postpone celebrating the holiday to increase the probability of seeing snow on the ground as you open presents. This is when many churches following the Julian calendar observe Christmas.

Cold winters generally bring a better chance of snow, but timing is important. The 1970s brought some cold, snowy winters to Missouri, yet during that decade neither Columbia nor St. Louis saw a single white Christmas.

The last time most of the state had a white Christmas was in 2000, during the second-coldest December on record, when virtually all of Missouri except for the Bootheel had 3-6 inches of snow.


Average chance of “white Christmas” across Missouri

Columbia: 23%

Conception: 29%

Hannibal: 30%

Kansas City: 18%

St. Louis: 19%

Springfield: 13%