A White Christmas in Denver is Surprisingly Hard to Come By

Snow has fallen on Christmas Day just 18 times in 132 years of record keeping
With such a warm and dry to start the month of December, a white Christmas has been feeling more and more out of reach with each passing day. As we discussed earlier this week in the State of the Atmosphere, the last part of December certainly looks colder than the start, but what snow may accompany that cold remains trickier to pin down. We see two systems over the next week which will have at least a chance to bring some measurable snow to northeast Colorado by Christmas Day.

In a typical year, odds are about 38% for Denver to have at least 1” of snow on the ground for Christmas, with just a 14% chance we see snow fall on the day. With only spotty snow on the ground currently across much of the metro area, we'll be dependent on the two upcoming systems to deliver if we're going to have a white Christmas this year.

A quick check on the season so far is a dismal one. Denver has only recorded 4 inches at Denver International Airport where official records are kept, whereas “normal” is greater than a foot by now. This slow of a snow season (to date with 4” or less) has only happened 23 other times for Denver since 1882. In only one of those years (1982/83) did the season bring above average snowfall by spring, just a handful had near average, and the rest were significantly snow-less. Years like this one average 15” less than average by the end of the snow season, where 57.5” is considered our average. While last weekend’s snow brought several inches of snow to some on the eastern Plains, Denver International Airport (where official records are kept) only recorded a Trace.

Here's more from the folks at the Boulder office of the National Weather Service:

On the other hand, if a white Christmas means having measurable snowfall (0.1 inch or more) on Christmas Day, then the odds drop to about 14 percent (18 days in 132 years) since 1882.

Taking a closer look at recent statistics for the last 30 years, Denver has received measurable snowfall on 5 Christmas Days, or 17 percent. Meanwhile, if we look at Christmas Days with 1 inch or more of snow on the ground, then 15 of the last 30 years (and 6 out of the last 8) have been a white Christmas, or 50 percent.

The most snow ever recorded on the ground in Denver on Christmas Day was 24 inches which was measured after the Christmas Eve blizzard of 1982. Other significant Christmas snow depths include the following:

5 Greatest Snow Depths on Christmas since 1900
* 1982: 24"
* 1913: 19"
* 2006: 15"
* 1973: 12"
* 1918: 11"

The heaviest snowfall on Christmas Day was 7.8 inches which occurred in 2007 and the second most was 6.4 inches recorded in 1894.

**Do keep in mind that the official site for Denver snowfall has changed over the years. Denver International Airport (2008-Present), Denver Stapleton Airport (1950-2007), 19th & Stout (1916-1949), 16th & Larimer (1882-1915).

In recent years we've done well with snowfall around Christmas. While in 2013 Denver recorded no snowfall or snow on the ground on the 25th, 2012 featured 2" and 2011 featured 3" of snow on the ground. The last time we had significant snowfall on Christmas day as in 2007, when 7.8" of snow was recorded.

With many of you traveling, and many more hoping for a white Christmas next week, we’ll be offering many updates in the days to come for what looks like a relatively active weather week across Colorado, and the United States.

We'll leave you with a snowy picture from Snowmass over this last weekend, more mountain snow on the way through the coming week!

Snowmall Colorado | Brendan Heberton

Matt Makens

Matt Makens has won 5 Emmys for his weather coverage. He has the seal of approval from the NWA and is a certified Broadcast Meteorologist as designated by the AMS. He works for Colorado's Own Ch 2.

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