Almost Half of the Lower 48 States Had Snow Cover Christmas Morning 2017, Including a Rare White Christmas in Seattle

December 25, 2017

A more widespread white Christmas was seen across the U.S. in 2017, thanks to several last-minute snow events from the Plains to the Midwest, Northeast, even the Pacific Northwest.

In the meteorological sense, a white Christmas occurs when there is at least one inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning, and it doesn't have to be snowing on the holiday for that to happen.

(MORE: Winter Storm Central  Your Typically Snowiest Month | Your Coldest Time of Year)

According to an analysis from NOAA's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center, 49.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground as of 1 a.m. EST on Christmas 2017. 

Snow depth analysis on Christmas 2017, compared to Christmas 2016. Note each daily analysis is taken at 1 a.m. EST.

This was the most widespread Christmas snow cover in the Lower 48 states in five years, and the fifth most widespread in the 15-year database from NOAA-NOHRSC.

Perhaps the strangest White Christmas of 2017 was in Seattle

Two inches of snow was reported on the ground as of 4 a.m. Christmas morning at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, making 2017 only the sixth white Christmas, there, in records dating to the 1890s

Only 2008 and 1965 had more snow on the ground in Seattle than Christmas 2017.

The 1.6 inches of snow officially on Christmas Eve at Sea-Tac Airport was their third snowiest Christmas Eve, behind only 2008 and 1926.

Similarly, after an icy mess on roads in Portland, Oregon, the city recorded its only its sixth Christmas with measurable snow cover in 133 years.

Other last-minute white Christmases in 2017 included Kansas City and Des Moines - 1 inch - Chicago and Denver - both with 2 inches.

How Typical Is a White Christmas?

The map below shows the locations of the best chance for a white Christmas in any given year, based on climatological averages over the last three decades.

Historical chance of a white Christmas in any given year, based on 1981-2010 data.

You may be surprised to see there isn't a lot of territory outside the mountain West, northern New England and the far northern tier where the odds of a white Christmas are better than 50 percent.

Christmas Morning 2016 saw snow on the ground in many areas where it's expected. This included much of New England and the Great Lakes region, as well as from the upper Midwest into the Rockies, Cascades and the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This was a notable change from 2015, when areas from east of Lake Michigan did not have a white Christmas, with the exception of parts of northern and central Maine.

Snow depth analysis on Christmas Day 2016.
(NOAA/NOHRSC)

In 2016, 44 percent of the contiguous U.S. was covered by snow. On average, about 38 percent of the Lower 48 states has snow on the ground on Christmas Day, according to 13 years of data compiled by NOAA's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC).

Since 2003, those percentages have varied widely from year to year, from just over 21 percent in 2003 to a whopping 63 percent of the contiguous U.S. in 2009.

    Regional Historical Odds

    Here are various white Christmas statistics, including the yearly probability, the number of white Christmases in each city's historical record, the last white Christmas, and the most snow on the ground on Christmas morning. All statistics are courtesy of the National Weather Service.

    Northeast

    Midwest

    Plains

    West

    South

    Yes, It Has Happened in the South

    Christmas snow cover isn't just a northern thing. Some years, parts of the southern U.S. have marveled at the sight of a white Christmas.

    (MORE: 5 Weirdest White Christmases)

    Southern cities that have observed at least one white Christmas in their recorded history.
    (Data: NWS/NOWDATA)

    Three relatively recent events brought an unusual Christmas Day snow cover to parts of the South:

    • 2009: Oklahoma City's snowstorm of record (13.5 inches) and one of only two white Christmases on record in Dallas (2 inches).
    • 2004: Snowstorm of record in Corpus Christi, Texas (4.4 inches), and the first day of measurable snow since 1895 in Brownsville, Texas (1.5 inches), which is the same latitude as Miami.
    • 1989: A pre-Christmas snow followed by a bullish Arctic cold outbreak gave both Charleston, South Carolina (4 inches), and Savannah, Georgia (2 inches), their only white Christmas. Jacksonville, Florida, missed a white Christmas by one day, with an inch of snow on the ground on Christmas Eve morning.

    The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.