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How often do we get a white Christmas in Richmond?

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Although it stirs the emotions, we need to manage our expectations about getting a white Christmas in central Virginia. From a climate standpoint, the chance of a white Christmas in Richmond on any given year is 7%.

We also need to be more precise in defining a white Christmas. For record-keeping purposes, it means at least 1 inch of snow on the ground at 7 a.m. Christmas morning. This differs from snowfall occurring on Christmas Day, which often melts on contact with surfaces, making the ground more wet than white.

In Richmond, the last white Christmas was 2009, when 2 inches of snow was on the ground in the morning, the remains of a large storm that dropped about 6 inches of snow one week before Christmas. (Far more fell just west of Richmond.) Christmas Day weather was far from pristine in 2009. The snow melted away during the afternoon with temperatures in the 50s and more than a half-inch of rain.

For more than 2 inches on the ground in Richmond on Christmas morning, we need to go back 55 years, to 1966.

For snow falling on Christmas Day, in the midnight to midnight time frame, we also need to go back about a decade, when 2.7 inches fell on Christmas Day 2010. For more than that, we need to go back nearly 60 years.

If you remember several cold Christmas mornings in the 1980s, your memory is pretty good. Of the four coldest Christmas mornings in Richmond, three came in the 1980s.

But we have not awakened to a Christmas morning temperature below 20 since 2000. Many remember the brutal ice storm a couple of years before that on Christmas Eve 1998, but the temperature Christmas morning was 25 that year.

The temperature and precipitation on any given Christmas Day depend on the weather pattern at the moment, but examining the data over the longer term does suggest a trend toward warmer Christmases in Richmond.

The 50-year average temperature on Christmas Day from 1921 to 1970 was 38.2. That average from 1971 to 2020 is 39.5.

Examining another 50-year period during the 12 days of Christmas, or the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany, shows a warming trend of a little more than 4 degrees.

The rest of this month is keeping with that trend. Temperatures for the rest of December will be close to normal or above normal, so it is increasingly likely Richmond will have one of its 10 warmest Decembers on record.

And all of this is consistent with what the scientific community understands about our warming climate.

Historical data is from the National Weather Service in Wakefield and the NOAA Applied Climate Information System. Richmond’s weather records began in 1897.

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