Historical Chances of a White Christmas

Map of White Christmas Probabilities 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%. 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 114 years of snow depth measurements in Twin Cities, a white Christmas happens about 72% of the time. From 1899 to 2012 there have been 32 years with either a "zero" or a "trace." The last time the Twin Cities has seen a brown Christmas was 2011. The deepest snow cover on December 25th was in 1983 with a hefty 20 inches. It was also a very cold Christmas in 1983, with the high temperature of 1 measly 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."

One of the more bizarre weather conditions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day happened in 1982. Heavy rains accompanied with thunder and lightning hit the Twin Cities after dusk on the 24th and continued into the early morning hours of the 25th. The rain changed over to a slushy 1.4 inches of snow later in the morning of the 25th, but officially 1982 was a brown Christmas since the snow depth was measured at 6am and the change-over occurred after that. Christmas 2007 was the snowiest Christmas Day since 1950. 3.4 inches of very fluffy snow fell at the Twin Cities International Airport, making a very picturesque scene.

Has there ever been a snowstorm on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in the Twin Cities? It may depend on what you mean by "snowstorm." The heaviest snowfall on Christmas Eve was 5.2 inches of snow in 2009. Another 2.0 inches of snow fell on Christmas Day 2009. To find the next significant snowfall, one has to go back in time to 1950 when 5.9 inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities. The biggest snowstorm was in 1945 where 11.3 inches fell in Downtown Minneapolis on December 24th and 25th. The Twin Cities was partially paralyzed. Streets and sidewalks were blocked by huge drifts and walking was very difficult. The streetcar system continued to run, albeit a bit tardy. Minneapolis street department employees used every piece of equipment available to clear the streets for Christmas.

Listed below are the probabilities of a white Christmas of at least 1 inch snow depth at some select cities. After this table, there is detailed information on past Christmas weather for the Twin Cities.

NAME                   YEARS OF           PROBABILITY IN PERCENT (%) OF AT LEAST:                           
                        RECORD           1 INCH          5 INCHES       10 INCHES 
                                   
ADA                        36               92               47              22
AGASSIZ REFUGE             38              100               71              24
AITKIN                     26               85               46              23
ALBERT LEA                 45               69               33              16
ALEXANDRIA                 54               87               39              15
ANGUS                      25               96               44              12
ARGYLE                     45               82               38              13
ARTICHOKE LAKE             72               64               19               7
AUSTIN                     52               67               29              13
BABBITT                    39              100               82              44
BAUDETTE                   26               88               62              31
BEARDSLEY                  22               73               32              14
BEMIDJI AIRPORT            65               92               65              32
BENSON                     50               84               32              10
BIG FALLS                  24              100               83              54
BIRD ISLAND                29               79               41              14
BRAINERD RS                34               97               59              29
BRICELYN                   24               71               25              12
BUFFALO                    41               83               46              17
CALEDONIA                  41               83               39              12
CAMBRIDGE                  66               86               42              23
CAMPBELL                   37               78               27               5
CANBY                      62               66               34              10
CARIBOU                    50               90               68              28
CASS LAKE                  21              100               76              48
CEDAR                      36               92               47              17
CHASKA                     69               74               28              13
CLOQUET                    51              100               84              47
COKATO                     26               73               31              12
COLLEGEVILLE               73               85               45              15
COOK                       25              100               84              64
COTTON                     32              100               72              47
CRANE LAKE                 16              100               94              56
CROOKSTON                  50               94               46              12
DAWSON                     50               76               26               8
DETROIT LAKES              50               90               50              10
DULUTH HARBOR              24               88               54               8
DULUTH AIRPORT             54               98               67              46
DULUTH DOWNTOWN            31               97               58              23
ELBOW LAKE                 26               69               38              19
ELGIN                      52               81               33              15
ELK RIVER                  57               86               44              21
FAIRMONT                   58               76               29              12
FARIBAULT                  54               78               33              17
FARMINGTON                 79               81               32              16
FERGUS FALLS               56               88               39              11
FOREST LAKE                44               86               34              16
FORT RIPLEY                39               95               59              15
FOSSTON                    40               90               68              28
GAYLORD                    36               64               28              11
GEORGETOWN                 26               77               31              12
GLENWOOD                   43               74               37              12
GRAND MARAIS               54               89               61              39
GRAND MEADOW               20               75               50              30
GRAND RAPIDS               66               97               67              39
GULL LAKE DAM              35               97               63              29
GUNFLINT LAKE              14              100               93              50
HALSTAD                    22               68               36               9
HARMONY                    49               76               41              24
HASTINGS                   49               82               29              18
HIBBING                    38               97               66              45
HIGH LANDING               28               96               57              21
HINCKLEY                   55               91               45              15
HOYT LAKES                 24              100               83              33
HUTCHINSON                 36               64               31              11
INDUS                      28               79               64              25
INTERNATIONAL FALLS        63               97               73              43
ISABELLA                   15              100              100              73
ISLAND LAKE                34              100               74              47
ISLE                       32               91               56              28
ITASCA STATE PARK          54               96               80              41
JORDAN                     40               60               25              15
KETTLE FALLS               24               79               71              42
LA CRESCENT                57               72               32              16
LAKE CITY                  22               59               27              14
LAKE WILSON                23               57               30               9
LAMBERTON                  39               64               28              10
LANESBORO                  41               73               34              17
LE CENTER                  20               70               30              10
LEECH LAKE DAM             50               98               70              30
LITCHFIELD                 25               68               36              20
LITTLE FALLS               33               82               42               9
LONG PRAIRIE               52               90               54              17
LUVERNE                    36               64               36              19
MADISON                    37               62               22               5
MAHNOMEN                   34               91               53              15
MAPLE PLAIN                46               78               41              20
MARSHALL                   53               68               28              13
MEADOWLANDS                30               97               73              30
MILACA                     51               90               45              16
MILAN                      47               68               36              17
MINNEAPOLIS/ST PAUL       108               71               32              11
MINNESOTA CITY             49               82               35              14
MONTEVIDEO                 45               62               36              13
MONTGOMERY                 22               68               27               9
MOORHEAD                   50               84               44              16
MOOSE LAKE                 53               98               51              17
MORA                       49               92               47              14
MORRIS                     50               80               42              16
NEW LONDON                 50               76               46              18
NEW ULM                    53               64               23               9
NORTH MANKATO              28               68               29              14
OKLEE                      33               88               61              15
OLIVIA                     20               70               20              10
ORTONVILLE                 20               70               10               0
OTTERTAIL                  49               88               49              20
OWATONNA                   41               71               29              17
PARK RAPIDS                48              100               60              23
PELICAN RAPIDS             30               93               57               7
PIGEON RIVER BRIDGE        25              100               84              64
PINE RIVER DAM             27              100               59              22
PIPESTONE                  44               66               20               2
POKEGAMA DAM               51               98               78              39
PRESTON                    36               72               28              11
RED LAKE FALLS             54               93               72              33
RED LAKE INDIAN RES.       62               90               60              24
RED WING                   45               84               29              11
REDWOOD FALLS AIRPORT      54               61               24               6
REMER                      26              100               65              35
RIVERTON                   21               95               57              29
ROCHESTER  AIRPORT         63               78               27              14
ROSEAU                     29              100               66              31
ROSEMOUNT                  49               90               31              14
ROTHSAY                    34               76               29               9
SAINT CLOUD AIRPORT        54               74               41              11
SAINT JAMES                42               74               24              17
SAINT PAUL                 45               80               36              20
SAINT PETER                44               59               23               9
SANDY LAKE DAM             55               95               73              29
SANTIAGO                   43               88               53              21
SPRINGFIELD                63               60               25              10
SPRING GROVE               43               70               40               7
STEWART                    36               67               44              17
STILLWATER                 34               71               38              15
THIEF RIVER FALLS          26               96               77              46
THORHULT                   48               96               83              35
TOWER                      21              100               90              48
TRACY                      57               72               32              12
TWO HARBORS                28               82               57              25
TYLER                      41               56               32               5
VIRGINIA                   30              100               80              30
WABASHA                    40               75               30              15
WADENA                     71               92               45              21
WALKER                     58              100               64              31
WARROAD                    36               97               72              33
WASECA                     62               81               37              21
WELLS                      43               72               28              14
WHEATON                    42               69               29              12
WHITEFACE RESERVOIR        33              100               88              42
WILLMAR                    44               70               36              20
WINDOM                     53               70               30               9
WINNEBAGO                  65               77               35              15
WINNIBIGOSHISH DAM         45               96               76              44
WINONA                     67               78               34               7
WINONA DAM                 56               79               32              11
WINTON                     33              100               91              55
WORTHINGTON                29               76               24              14
WRIGHT                     41               98               63              34
YOUNG AMERICA              25               64               28              12
ZUMBROTA                   34               71               29              15
FARGO, ND                  58               81               40               5

         ...A REVIEW OF WEATHER RECORDS FOR DECEMBER 24TH AND 25TH...
                        FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST PAUL MINNESOTA*

      CHRISTMAS EVE   (DECEMBER 24)    CHRISTMAS DAY    (DECEMBER 25) 
YEAR   (TEMPS)      (PRECIP)   SNOW      (TEMPS)      (PRECIP)   SNOW
      HIGH  LOW   MELTED/SNOW  DEPTH    HIGH  LOW   MELTED/SNOW  DEPTH 
1899   30    11     0   /  0     0       11     2     0   /  0     0
1900   15     6    0.04 / 0.5    1       11     6    0.01 / 0.2    1 
1901   33    28     0   /  0     1       34    20     0   /  0     1      
1902   11    -4    0.07 / 0.1    6       -4   -15     0   /  0     6 
1903   26    -1    0.02 / 0.4    3       -1   -14    0.04 / 0.6    3 
1904   20    12    0.03 / 0.5    1       26    19     T   /  T     T  
1905   28     5     0   /  0     1       37    17     0   /  0     T 
1906   25    14     T   /  T     T       34    20     0   /  0     0 
1907   32    14    0.03 / 0.3    1       29     7     0   /  0     1 
1908   27    13     T   /  T     6       28    12     T   /  T     6 
1909   27    16    0.01 / 0.1   10       19    -3     T   /  T    10 
1910    9    -8     0   /  0     1       21     9    0.19 / 2.5    4 
1911   30    11     0   /  0     0       19     4     0   /  0     0 
1912   32    12     0   /  0     4       35    27     0   /  0     4 
1913   35    13     0   /  0     0       19    10     T   /  T     T 
1914    1    -9     0   /  0     5       -5   -14     0   /  0     5 
1915   28    13     0   /  0     3       20    14     T   /  T     3 
1916   16     3    0.13 / 1.3    6       26     2     T   /  T     6 
1917   32    -9     0   /  0     T        8   -13     0   /  0     T 
1918   30    11     T   /  T     T       27     8     0   /  0     T 
1919   21     7     0   /  0     8       40    18     0   /  0     8 
1920    5    -7     0   /  0     5       13    -1    0.09 / 3.0    8 
1921   -2   -18     0   /  0     2       19    -7     0   /  0     2 
1922   40    33     0   /  0     0       51    26     0   /  0     0 
1923   34    24     0   /  0     0       36    25     0   /  0     0 
1924    4   -15     T   /  T     5       10   -14     0   /  0     5 
1925   15     9    0.01 / 0.1    1       11    -4     0   /  0     1 
1926    6    -5     0   /  0     9       17    -3     0   /  0     9 
1927   23     6     0   /  0    13       26    13     T   /  T    13 
1928   41    25     0   /  0     T       43    24     0   /  0     T 
1929   29    15    0.02 / 0.2    1       33    12     T   /  T     1 
1930   30    13     0   /  0     T       29    22     T   /  T     T 
1931   37    29    0.14 / 1.6    1       36    24     0   /  0     T 
1932   32    24    0.63 / 3.0    3       32    18    0.40 / 5.0    8 
1933   21   -15    0.03 / 0.6    2       -6   -16    0.08 / 1.4    3 
1934   24     3     0   /  0     6       27   -12    0.12 / 1.2    7 
1935    5    -9    0.06 / 1.2    5        7   -10    0.04 / 0.4    6 
1936   39    33     T   /  T     0       42    36     T   /  T     T 
1937   16     4    0.03 / 0.3    2       20     3    0.01 / 0.1    2 
1938   23    13    0.02 / 0.2    3       34     3     T   /  T     3 
1939   27     8     0   /  0     3       26    20     T   /  T     3 
1940   44    33     0   /  0     3       41    35     0   /  0     2 
1941   36    22     0   /  0     T       31    27     0   /  0     T 
1942   17     9     0   /  0     4       30    14    0.10 / 1.2    5 
1943   34    14     0   /  0     0       43    23     0   /  0     0 
1944   24     6     T   /  T     T       15    -5     0   /  0     T 
1945   24    20    0.12 / 1.7    4       28    22    0.78 / 9.6   14 
1946   25    11     0   /  0     1       35    11    0.01 / 0.2    1 
1947   21     9     T   /  T     6       32    11     T   /  T     6 
1948   24     0     0   /  0     2       13    -6     0   /  0     2 
1949   31    -3     T   /  T     T       38     4     0   /  0     T 
1950   23     2     0   /  0     9        7     0    0.39 / 5.9   14 
1951   10   -16    0.03 / 0.3    9       25     8    0.15 / 1.5   10 
1952   28    10     T   / 0.1    5       18     5     T   /  T     5 
1953   40    20     0   /  0     1       36    25     T   /  T     1 
1954   35    27     0   /  0     3       38    29     0   /  0     3 
1955   36     9     0   /  0     7       15     4    0.06 / 1.0    7 
1956   22    10    0.06 / 0.6    1       28     9     T   /  T     1 
1957   46    22     0   /  0     0       36    30    0.10 / 1.0    0 
1958   37    22     T   /  T     T       38    16     0   /  0     T 
1959   29    23     T   /  T     1       38    27    0.03 /  0     1 
1960   24    -1    0.02 / 0.3    T       26     8     T   /  T     1 
1961   29    17     T   /  T     8       23    15     T   /  T     8 
1962   16    -9    0.06 / 0.7    1       16   -20    0.06 / 0.8    2 
1963   40    17     0   /  0     4       35    13     0   /  0     3 
1964   26     4    0.02 /  T     3       13     2    0.12 / 1.8    4 
1965   34    25     T   /  T     0       32    20     T   /  T     0 
1966   22     7     0   /  0     1       15     0     0   /  0     1 
1967   32    17    0.01 / 0.1    0       25     5     T   /  T     T 
1968    2   -17     T   / 0.2   16        4   -18    0.05 / 1.0   15 
1969   23    12    0.07 / 1.6   13       23    15    0.02 / 0.5   14 
1970   16   -13     T   /  T     3       15     0     0   /  0     3 
1971   35    10     T   /  T     4       31    15     T   /  T     3 
1972   25     8    0.01 / 0.1    3       30    11    0.05 / 0.9    3 
1973   32    24    0.20 / 0.9    4       34    31    0.16 / 1.4    5 
1974   21    11    0.01 / 0.2    3       21     1     T   /  T     2 
1975   26    22     T   /  T     3       26    23     T   /  T     3 
1976   34    15     T   /  T     T       30    25    0.01 / 0.1    T 
1977   22     2     T   /  T     T        2   -10     T   /  T     T 
1978   16    -1     T   /  T    11       14     1     T   /  T    11 
1979   35    28     T   /  T     T       31    23     0   /  0     T 
1980   12    -9     T   /  T     1       16   -12     T   /  T     1 
1981   26     8     0   /  0     4       23    12    0.01 / 0.1    4 
1982   38    35    1.26 /  0     0       38    17    1.35 / 1.4    T 
1983  -10   -25     0   /  0    20        1   -11     T   /  T    20 
1984    5    -9    0.01 / 0.2    4       19    -8     0   /  0     3 
1985    2   -11     0   /  0     9        7    -7    0.05 / 0.6   10 
1986   34    26     T   /  T     1       30    26     0   /  0     T 
1987   32    22    0.18 / 2.7    3       22     0    0.01 / 0.1    5 
1988   25    10     T   /  T     T       17     5     T   /  T     T 
1989   24     7    0.01 / 0.3    2       35     5    0.01 / 0.1    2 
1990   15   -14     T   /  T     6       18   -16     T   /  T     6 
1991   35    16     0   /  0     9       36    14     0   /  0     9 
1992   30   -11    0.01 / 0.2    2       30    -2     T   /  T     2 
1993   11    -2     T   / 0.1    2       10    -3     T   /  T     2 
1994   43    21     0   /  0     2       45    23     0   /  0     1
1995   27    19     T   /  T     5       22    13     T   /  T     5
1996    7   -11    0.01 / 0.2   18       -9   -22     T   /  T    18
1997   26    22     T   / 0.2    T       28    17     T   /  T     0
1998   17     0    0.00 / 0.2    1       22     7     T   /  T     1
1999   22    -2     T   / 0.2    3       43    17     T   /  T     2
2000    1   -13    0.00 /  0    11       12   -17    0.01 / 0.2   10
2001   19     8    0.00 /  0     6       16     7    0.02 / 0.3    5 
2002   20    12     T   /  T     T       23    11     0   /  0     T
2003   28    10     0   /  0     4       33    12     0   /  0     3
2004   10   -10     T   / 0.1    1       18     8    0.01 / 0.2    1
2005   37    32     T   /  0     4       35    32     T   /  0     3
2006   40    23     0   /  0     T       34    21     0   /  0     T
2007   20     6     0   /  0     7       28    19    0.15 / 3.4    6
2008   14    -2     T   / 0.2    7       26    -6     0   /  0     8
2009   34    26    0.44 / 5.2   11       37    23    0.56 / 2.0   12
2010   26    18    0.18 / 2.3   19       20    16      T  /  T    19
2011   42    18     0   /  0     T       42    30      0  /  0     0
2012   18     6    0.01 / 0.5    1       13     0      0  /  0     1 

     CHRISTMAS EVE  (DECEMBER 24)     CHRISTMAS DAY    (DECEMBER 25) 
YEAR  (TEMPS)      (PRECIP)   SNOW      (TEMPS)      (PRECIP)   SNOW
     HIGH  LOW   MELTED/SNOW  DEPTH    HIGH  LOW   MELTED/SNOW  DEPTH

*From 1890 to the 1936-1937 winter season, measurements were located at the U.S. Court 
House in downtown Minneapolis. From 1937 to 1999 the official snow site for the
Twin Cities was located at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.
From 2000 to 2003, snow measurements are located at the National
Weather Service in Chanhassen while temperature measurements continue at the 
International Airport. In 2004 snowfall measurements once again returned to the
International Airport. Data from the Minneapolis/St. Paul table was compiled
by the National Weather Service and the State Climatology Office.

For more information contact: climate@umn.edu