By: William R Deedler; Southeast Michigan Weather Historian
At this time /20th/, though warmer temperatures, some melting and rain are possible; it is still likely a white Christmas will be enjoyed. This is likely given the existing heavy snow cover and just an inch of snow is necessary to meet the requirement Christmas morning. Still, at this time the weather looks suitable for holiday travel across Southeast Lower Michigan with the milder weather and possibly just some light rain.
Over the years, extreme Southeast Lower Michigan has averaged about a 50 percent chance for a white Christmas. Some years it's already on the ground, some years not, some years it melts while other years it falls on the day. However, theoretically, you could actually have nothing on the ground Christmas morning and have a snowstorm dump a foot on the region during the day and still have NO official white Christmas under the standing morning rule. It works the other way too; you could have a several inches on the ground at 7am 12/25 but warmer air and/or rain melts it away by afternoon or evening and still officially have a white Christmas.
Last year's December /2015/ was a mild and snowless Christmas with a high temperatures near 50. Of course, last December was our record breaking warm El Nino December, therefore the hopes for a white Christmas were low anyway. Back on Christmas 2014, the chances for a white Christmas were very similar to 2015 with record setting low amounts of snow for the month (in the top 5 snowless). Officially on 12/25/14 at 7am; no snow was on the ground with a trace of light rain on the date. Only a TRACE of snow had fallen up to that day in December /0.1 for the entire month/. Most areas over the remainder of Southeast Lower Michigan had a few tenths of snow Christmas eve or Christmas but with less than the amount needed and mild temperatures rising into the upper 30s to around 40...none of the area saw a white Christmas.
Previous recent Christmases:
In 2013; even with all the snowfall throughout last winter, officially on 12/25/13 at 7am Detroit Metro Airport had only a TRACE of snow on the ground. Most areas into the remainder of Southeast Lower Michigan had some residual snow and ice on the ground for a white Christmas. Back in 2012, enough snow did fall at Detroit Metro Arpt (an inch of fresh snow Christmas Eve) to make it an official white Christmas was on the ground as of 7AM. The necessary inch or more was also on the ground at both Flint and Saginaw. Ironically the day after Christmas, the best snowstorm of the winter season hit the region...a day late and several inches short for Christmas. A year earlier in 2011, it was a relatively mild Christmas with temperatures in the 40s and no snow on the ground; so no white Christmas. However back in 2010; residents across Southeast Lower Michigan did enjoy a white Christmas with generally 1” to 6” of snow across as temperatures hovered in the 20s. Then further back in 2009, much of the Detroit area south did not have a white Christmas but points north across Flint, Saginaw and the thumb region generally had a 1” to 3” snow cover. Back in 2008, we saw a “sloppy, melting white” Christmas. That white Christmas involved the melting of a heavy snow cover from past snows that accumulated throughout December. The best of the snowstorms came before Christmas on the 19th (with another, lesser intense snow falling on the doorstep of Christmas, 23rd -24th). After, however, the heavy snow cover melted in earnest as milder air overspread the region Christmas Eve right through the 26th. Christmas of 2007, saw temperatures rise into the mid 40s to mid 50s a couple of days prior to Christmas and that, combined with light rain, pretty much took care of any hopes for a white Christmas as then, like the later Christmas of 2008, the previous heavy snow cover melted (but this time in its entirety before Christmas). Some scattered light snow did return, skirting the landscape on Christmas Eve but most areas around Southeast Lower Michigan still only had a trace of snow for Christmas. At White Lake and Saginaw, however, the official inch of snow to make it a white Christmas was barely attained in 2007.
Going back further to the Christmas of 2006; it was also mild and therefore, there was no white Christmas. In 2005, we just barely squeaked out a white Christmas (at Detroit Metro Airport, anyway) as a mild spell moved in just before Christmas along with rain, melting the snow down from 4” to 1” by Christmas morning. Originally, there had been 8” of snow on the ground on the 15th. The last really scenic (no slop) with fresh white snow for Christmas occurred in 2004. A snowstorm brought heavy snow (ranging from 8”at Detroit to around 4” in Saginaw and Flint) on the 23rd, which left the region with a nice white cover for Christmas. It was also a cold Christmas also with highs only in the teens and overnight lows below zero.
Based on the Detroit records, the Santa award for the "whitest" (most snow on the ground) and also the second snowiest Christmas (snow falling on Christmas) goes to the Christmas of 1951! Just over a foot /13 inches/ of snow was recorded on ground late Christmas day with 6.2 inches of the snow falling on Christmas. Temperatures held well below freezing (HI-26/LOW-18), so what snow did fall, remained. A close second to the "whitest" Christmas, occurred the Christmas after the big stock market crash in 1929. Eleven and a half inches of snow was measured December 25th, 1929 at Detroit but only three tenths /.3/ fell on Christmas. Recently, the Christmas of 2000 was very white indeed, but as to how much of a white Christmas (snow depths) is where the confusion came in. Let me elaborate, officially at Detroit Metro Airport, just six inches of snow was recorded on the ground at 7AM Christmas Day. However, just about anywhere west/north and in the city of Detroit itself, amounts were considerably higher with generally 8 to at least 15 inches. At the National Weather Service in White Lake, 15 inches was observed on the ground Christmas 2000 morning. No additional snow fell on Christmas Day (nor was anymore really wanted with the surplus already at hand). In any event, for Detroit and surrounding communities, the six inches at Detroit Metro Airport is the official snow depth used for the area.
The snowiest Christmas (most snow falling on Christmas), occurred in 1915 when 6.4 inches fell with a snow depth of seven inches on the ground. The timing of this snowfall was impeccable for Christmas with it actually starting Christmas Eve around sunset. Then, it continued to snow through the night into Christmas day. Actually, even more than the 6.4 inches fell from the entire storm with an additional 1.6 inches falling on Christmas Eve. This gave a snowstorm total of eight inches. A little light rain did mix with the snow during the forenoon hours of Christmas but with a high temperature of only 33, it did little to mar the "Christmas card" scene. Speaking of "Christmas card" scenes, another heavy wet snowfall blanketed the area just after the turn of the century early on Christmas in 1901. The scene is described in the historical weather books as follows:
Probably one of the slushiest and sloppiest Christmas Days happened in 1973. What started out as a white Christmas with a heavy 7 inch snow cover, quickly melted to a meager 2” slush mess by nightfall. To add insult to injury, it rained nearly a half an inch during the day.The wettest Christmas on record occurred in 1945 when 1.16 inches of rain fell. The rain actually began Christmas Eve as a light freezing rain and continued freezing until nearly dawn on Christmas, when the temperature pushed above freezing. Until the ice melted, a few tenths of an inch of ice coated everything by Christmas dawn. Needless to say, walking and driving early the Christmas of 1945 was treacherous but Santa was in and out of town in a flash!
Without a doubt, and still in the memories of long term inhabitants of Southeast Lower Michigan, is the warmest Christmas on record, the Christmas of 1982. It was as though the whole area was shipped to Florida for the holiday! The official record high at Detroit was 64 degrees, while Flint did one degree better at 65! These readings are about normal for Tallahassee, Florida! Scenes of shirt sleeved people with shorts running or riding bikes, instead of visions of sugar plums, made the Christmas of 1982 to some Michigan Christmas traditionalist, very hard to take. This spring-like day was complete with scattered showers and, of all things, thunderstorms! Ironically, the bitterest cold Christmas came just a year later in 1983! Maybe a payback from Mother Nature for the warm weather we were treated to, the Christmas past? The temperature plummeted Christmas eve to a record low of -9 at Detroit and was accompanied by a stiff west wind averaging 25 to 30 mph, creating life threatening wind chills at times of near 40 below zero! Santa certainly brought the North Pole with him the Christmas of 1983, when he made his rounds very early that morning. In addition to the record low Christmas eve, another record low /-10/ was established during the very early morning hours of Christmas.
These Christmases past discussed are more the extreme than the norm across extreme Southeast Lower Michigan. But they do show the variable weather that can occur at Christmas (or any other time for that matter). The "normal" (or average) highs in extreme Southeast Lower Michigan Christmas Day are in the lower 30s, while lows average in the upper teens.
And now, I'd like to wish all who read this a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Season and the best in 2017! I plan on continuing my blog for the new year if the fates allow and look forward in reaching out to more people (and hear their comments and ideas) across the globe.
Making weather fun while we all learn,
Bill Deedler - SEMI_WeatherHistorian