White Christmases in the UK

  • Snow covered fields near Farndale, North Yorkshire, February 12th 2012. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

    Ponies walk across a snow covered field in Brentwood, Essex. Photo: February 5, 2012. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

    A woman walks her dog near Peebles in the Scottish Borders, December 2011. Photo: David Cheskin/PA Wire

  • White Christmases in the UK
    22.12.2012 15:50

    At this time of the year it is not at all uncommon for weather forecasters to be asked whether there will be a ‘White Christmas‘. The interest in having a White Christmas has long been an obsession of the public, fuelled by the media. But what exactly is a White Christmas? Rather disappointedly, Christmas is defined to be a white one if a single snow flake is observed to fall in the 24 hours of December 25th, and not because of snow that lies on the ground. The organisation responsible for determining whether it is a White Christmas or not, is the UK Met Office, based in Exeter, Devon. 


    Who observes these snowflakes? Mostly weather enthusiasts who watch for snowflakes or by cameras that report everything back to Devon. If there is a single snowflake observed falling on Christmas Day in, for example, Manchester, then it is classed as White Christmas in the whole UK? The answer of course, is ‘no’. It is a White Christmas in Manchester and nowhere else. 


    Out of the winter months of December, January, and February, it is December that has the smallest number of days with snow-falling days (5 compared to 7.6 and 7.8 respectively). Of the past 52 years, snow has fallen on the past 38 years. However, as the popular weather journalist Philip Eden wrote, “The Christmas card snow scenes are more wishful thinking than a reflection of reality.” On average, snow or sleet falls in London in only out of every twelve years on Christmas Day (PE). 

    Records of the Central England Temperature (CET; the longest running record of temperatures for a country) reveal that the month of December is the only month that has seen an average drop in temperatures in the past ten years compared to 1961-1990 (from 4.7 Celsius to 4.4 Celsius) compared to January (3.8 Celsius up to 4.7 Celsius) and February (3.8 Celsius up to 4.9 Celsius).

    This Christmas

    The days prior to Christmas this year has seen mostly unsettled. Moist, warm air has been moving from the Tropics has brought rain up to the UK. It is highly unlikely that there will be a snowflake falling on mainland Britain or Northern Ireland, although it is not improbable that there may be some snow in the Shetland Islands. What are we going to encounter this Christmas? It looks like being an unsettled day with showers or longer spells of rain and a little sunshine. Colder in Scotland.

    By: Seán Penston