Wishing for a white Christmas? Well…

TheWxMeister Wonders

So far this season

An active early snow season continued into December for Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

The late fall and early winter time frame has been great for snow along the Front Range of southern Colorado. As of December 17th, Colorado Springs is more than 14″ above the seasonal average for snow and Pueblo is just under a foot above average. Our recent mid-December storm helped to keep the numbers up.

It’s a similar story across the state as all the major mountain river basins except one are running more than 125% above average snowpack. Statewide snowpack is 133% of average. Between December 9th and 16th, several ski resorts received more than 50″ of snow.

After a week where some ski resorts received more than 50″ of snow, the mountains are well above average on snowpack. Colorado as a state is at 133% of average as of Dec. 16, 2019.

Historical chances in Colorado Springs

We’ve been keeping climatology records in Colorado Springs since 1894, so we’ve got about 125 years of data we can look at to see what our chances of a white Christmas are if we know nothing about the weather patterns of a given year. It’s science, so we need a specific definition of white Christmas from which to work. We use a 1/2″ or more of snow falling on Christmas WITH an inch or more of snow being on the ground at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day at the Colorado Springs airport. Using this definition, we haven’t technically had a white Christmas in Colorado Springs since 1987!

There is a 27% chance of an inch or more of snow being on the ground in Colorado Springs on Christmas, but only a 5% chance of an inch or more of snow falling on Christmas day.

– Pueblo NWS/NOAA data for the colorado springs airport

Investigating the climate data about Christmas reveals that we’ve seen at least a trace of snowfall on Christmas day 21 times since the 1890s and an inch or more of snow falling has only happened six times. Snow on the ground data has been kept since 1948 and is a little more favorable. A trace or more of snow has been on the ground 29 times and an inch or more has been on the ground 19 times. Keep in mind, these numbers are independent of any falling snow on the 25th.

Historical chances in Pueblo

We’ve been keeping climatology records in Colorado Springs since 1888, so we’ve got more than 130 years of data we can look at to see what our chances of a white Christmas are if we know nothing about the weather patterns of a given year. Like Colorado Springs, we use a 1/2″ or more of snow falling on Christmas WITH an inch or more of snow being on the ground at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day at the Pueblo airport as our official definition. Pueblo had a white Christmas as the new century began, with 1.8″ of snow falling during the day in 2000.

There is a 19% chance of an inch or more of snow being on the ground in Pueblo on Christmas, but only a 5% chance of an inch or more of snow falling on Christmas day.

– PUEBLO NWS/NOAA DATA FOR THE pueblo AIRPORT

Investigating the climate data about Christmas reveals that we’ve seen at least a trace of snowfall on Christmas day 19 times since the 1880s and an inch or more of snow falling has only happened seven times. Snow on the ground data has been kept since 1948 and is a little more favorable. A trace or more of snow has been on the ground 20 times and an inch or more has been on the ground 13 times. Keep in mind, these numbers are independent of any falling snow on the 25th.

Historical chances across the U.S.

Image courtesy of National Weather Service/NOAA

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the chance of a white Christmas is higher over northern parts of the United States and in the major mountain ranges across the country. While the higher terrain of the inter-mountain west, northern Minnesota/Wisconsin and the upper New England regions are pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas, that isn’t the case for most of the country.

What about this year along the Front Range?

We’re a little more than a week away from Christmas, close enough that we can take a pretty educated look at the weather pattern to see if we have any chance at all in 2019. It’s likely that the Sunday/Monday morning snow will be gone by the 25th for the Springs and Pueblo metro areas as we’ve got a pretty dry and eventually warm stretch on the way through the weekend.

Forecast as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019

Beyond that, the pattern gets a little more interesting as we head toward Christmas Eve and Christmas. There are two primary computer models we use for forecasting 7-10 days out into the future. One of them is from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the other one is the American Global Forecast System model. Let’s investigate what they have to say.

The ECMWF model shows a dominant ridge of high pressure over the eastern U.S. while a general, not well-defined trough pattern over the inter-mountain west.
The GFS model shows a dominant ridge of high pressure over the eastern U.S. with a defined shortwave moving out of the Rocky Mountains on Christmas morning.

Note that there are some similarities in the pattern between the two models, specifically a ridge of high pressure over the eastern third of the country with some sort of a dip in the jetstream over the western U.S. Closer analysis reveals that the European model has two weaker waves moving out of the Rockies Christmas morning, compared to the energy being more focused as one, stronger wave in the GFS model. The GFS scenario would be more likely to bring some snow to the Front Range cities in southern Colorado, especially if it is a little farther south.

The GFS precipitation forecast above isn’t overly impressive, with only very light precipitation falling east of the mountains, but does display at least a chance of some snow falling over southern Colorado compared to the dry European model.

This far out (eight days) what we can say is that there is a likely weather pattern that may have some energy moving through the state that could produce some snow, particularly for the mountains. Over the next five or so days we’ll wait to see if the energy is more likely to congeal like the GFS model shows, and have a better chance of precipitation, or the energy is likely to be diffuse, like the European model shows. Personally, over the last four to six years, the Europeans have been more accurate at the long-range prognostications, so at this point I’d say that our chances of a white Christmas are actually a little less than the climatological average.

If it changes, I’ll make sure to let you know! Merry Christmas.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Local Stories

More Local