Britons dreaming of a white Christmas have been left disappointed in recent years.
The last smattering of snow to settle on 25 December in the UK was in 2017, and that was just a fraction of the flakes seen in 2010.
After a relatively mild autumn, will the long wait for snow-covered streets finally be over this year? Here’s what the forecasters – and bookmakers – are saying.
How likely is a white Christmas?
Most people imagine a snowy wonderland when they talk about a white Christmas, but the official definition used by the Met Office is “for one snowflake to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25 December somewhere in the UK”.
Snowflakes have fallen on Christmas Day in the UK 38 times in the last 52 years, according to the Met’s records.
But those hoping for a wider blanket of snow have been left wanting: there has only been a substantial covering of snow on the ground (where more than 40% of stations in the UK reported snow at 9am) four times since 1960, none of which were in the past decade.
The last time the UK celebrated in the snow was in 2010 and even then it didn’t extend to the south of England, which hasn’t seen the white stuff on Christmas Day since 2004.
Forecasters say we are generally less likely to see snow in December than in the following three months. On average, snow or sleet falls for less than four days in December, compared with more than five days in January and February and just over four days in March.
“White Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries, even more so before the change of calendar in 1752 which effectively pushed Christmas day back by 12 days,” says the Met Office.
Climate change has also brought higher average temperatures generally, further reducing the chances of a snowy Christmas.
It is now “extremely unusual” to experience a white Christmas like that of 2010, when snow was recorded on the ground at 83% of the nation’s weather stations (the most ever), while snow or sleet fell at 19% of stations.
Air temperatures do not need to drop below zero for snow to fall. In fact, the heaviest snowfalls tend to occur between 0C and 2C, as the slightly warmer air causes snowflakes to melt and stick together forming bigger heavier flakes.
What are the odds for 2021?
Odds on a white Christmas are higher than they were last year, with bookmaker Coral suggesting that the Scottish city of Aberdeen has the highest chance of snow.
“There is no greater than a one-in-three chance of reported snow anywhere in the UK or Ireland,” said Gambling.com, “bar Aberdeen”, which has odds of 7/4. Southerly regions are the least likely, with Truro at 10/1 and Bristol 8/1, compared with Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds at 4/1.
For those celebrating in the English capital, the chances of a white Christmas are 5/1.
What is the weather forecast for Christmas 2021?
The Met Office regularly cautions that it can only accurately predict local weather up to five days in advance, but it does offer more general long-range forecasts. So far, this goes up to 20 December and suggests there will be “a risk of snow and ice” in the north in the weeks leading up to the big day.
Where are the snowiest places in the UK?
Snowy conditions are typically most often seen in the east and north-east of the UK.
Predictably, Scotland dominates the Met Office chart of the top ten snowiest places in the country. With 76 days of snowfall recorded at Cairngorm chairlift’s weather station, it has the highest average number of days of snow falling a year (based on 1981-2010 averages). In second place, the weather station on the Shetland Islands Baltasound has on average 65 days.
Copley in County Durham is England’s snowiest place with snow falling on average 53 days each year. Widdybank Fell, located in the heart of the North Pennines, is the second snowiest place in England.
In Wales, snow can sometimes be seen on the mountains of Snowdonia from October onwards. Denbighshire, Pembrokeshire and the Brecon Beacons are all good contenders too. For Northern Ireland, the mountains of Sperrin, Antrim and Mourne see around 35 days a year of snowfall, according to the Met’s records.
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