If You Want A White Christmas, Go To The Mountains

Dec 22, 2014

Will it be a white Christmas? Every year, those yearning for an Irving Berlin-style version of the holiday start staring down the weather report, hanging on to every "slight chance" with hopes that a flurry might turn into a blanket of the fluffy white stuff.

Coloradans can generally find a white Christmas if they want to travel a little bit, said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist.

"We're of course the kind of state, with the mountains, where if you are willing to take a drive you can almost always encounter snow. But if you don't like snow you can almost always get away from it too just within a fairly short drive," Doesken said.

But what counts as a truly white Christmas? Doesken said there are a couple of ways to slice the numbers.

If all you care about is snow on the ground (his observers use an inch of snow as the baseline requirement), many Colorado towns have pretty good chances of having a white Christmas. A snow that falls a week or even more before Christmas is likely to stay around, since the days are so short and the sun's angle doesn't give it much of a chance to melt a recent snowfall.

According  to Doesken's data, mountain towns like Telluride, Dillon, and Aspen have a 97 or 98 percent chance of having a white Christmas, using this definition. Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver have a 40 to 45 percent chance, and Greeley has about a one in three chance.

"If you want fresh snow on the ground, that's a different measure," said Doesken.

For the fresh snow metric, observers count half an inch of fresh snow falling on either Christmas Eve or day. The chances of that are a lot smaller. In Colorado Springs, there's an 8 percent chance of having fresh snow on the ground on those two days. Denver and Boulder have around a 20 percent chance, Fort Collins and Greeley have around a 15 percent chance of a white Christmas with fresh snow.

Residents of Steamboat Springs have a 44 percent chance of having fresh snow on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

The place in the state with the highest chance of fresh snow on the holiday? Berthoud Pass.

"Almost two in three years will have some measurable new snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day," said Doesken.