In Depth

Will we get snow on Christmas Day?

Bookmakers shorten odds despite Met Office warning that white Christmas remains ‘unlikely’

Britons who dream of a white Christmas have been left sadly disappointed in recent years.

But with the UK about to head into an icy weekend, hopes are rising that temperatures could remain low enough for Britain to get a light dusting of snow on 25 December.

Bookies think “holiday miracle” could be on the cards, slashing their odds from 10/1 to 6/1 on average, The Sun reports. And the Met Office isn't ruling it out either. 

So will the UK be treated to the ultimate festive experience 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 “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 55 years.

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 in the last 52 years.

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 on 3.9 days in December, compared with 5.3 days in January, 5.6 in February and 4.2 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.

So what are the odds for 2020?

Odds on a white Christmas are fairly low, as they often are, but are higher than last year.

While bookmakers have published averaged odds of around 6/1 on snowfall for across the UK, some specific betting agencies have posted notably short odds. Ladbrokes, for example, says that the odds of snow falling anywhere in the country is currently at 5/4, down from 6/4 in November.

What is the weather forecast for Christmas 2020?

Despite the shortening odds, a spokesperson from the Met Office told DevonLive this week that the chances of a White Christmas are looking unlikely.

“At the moment the UK is almost four weeks away from Christmas so we are unable to give any detailed forecast at this stage,” the spokesperson at the Exeter-based organisation said. 

“But our latest forecast does currently suggest that during the later stages of December it is looking more likely to be unsettled. At the moment it does look quite unlikely that we will see a White Christmas but we will be able to confirm that closer to the time.”

Where are the snowiest places in the UK?

Snowy conditions in the UK “are often associated with a flow of air from the east or north during the winter and so it is little surprise that upland areas of the east and north-east of the UK see the most”, says the Met Office

Predictably, Scotland dominates the Met Office chart of the top ten snowiest places in the country. The weather station at the Cairngorm chairlift has the highest average number of days of snow falling a year (76, 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, Snowdonia takes the crown for snowiest place to visit, while 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.

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