Hopes grow dim for white Christmas

December 24, 1997

Hopes grow dim for white Christmas


Staff Writer

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas?

It has snowed in the region on Christmas Day only 10 times in this century, and this year is unlikely to change that total, according to weather forecasters.

The most Hagerstown is likely to see is a little bit of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasts call for highs in the mid-40s today with rain in the afternoon or early evening. The skies should clear somewhat on Christmas Day, with highs reaching 50 degrees, according to forecasts.


"Usually, we don't get too many white Christmases around here," said Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer, whose records indicate 1993 was the last year it snowed more than an inch on Christmas Day.

Travelers coming home should have smooth sailing, though. Forecasts for Sunday call for partly sunny skies with highs between 40 and 45 degrees.

If you want to broaden the definition, there have been 26 Christmases since 1900 that have featured snow on the ground. But Keefer said he discounts snow left over from old storms.

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't consider it a white Christmas unless it was actually snowing on Christmas or Christmas Eve," he said. "Old snow laying on the ground doesn't seem like a true white Christmas to me."

Those are rare - averaging about one each decade - because the heavy snow season does not arrive until the new year, Keefer said. "It is a little early in the season for that. We don't usually get out heavy snow 'till later in the year," he said.

No snow on Christmas is one thing. But no snow at all is rare, Keefer said. Yet, Keefer said the area has not had any measurable snowfall this season. The last comparable winter was 1991-92, in which only a half-inch of snow fell in December and no additional snow fell until Jan. 25, he said.

Digging through his records, Keefer said he found the record for latest snow was the winter of 1900-01. That year, it did not snow at all until Jan. 25, when the area received 7.5 inches.

"The way this winter is going, maybe we can do it," Keefer said.

Why has it been so mild? Some have pointed to El Nino, that peculiar phenomenon that forms in the middle of the Pacific Ocean every so often.

According to the theory, El Nino produces a deceptively mild December, followed by a devastating January and February.

But Christ Strong, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the data is inconclusive. He said he has read studies that have produced conflicting conclusions.

"There is a lot less direct relation between weather in this part of the country and El Nino simply because of the distance. I'd tend to say we've been in a warm weather pattern and leave it at that," he said.

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