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White Christmas chances are slim

December 21, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack predicts a white Christmas.

Statistically speaking, there is a 10 percent chance.

cont. from front page

But Santa Claus probably will need wheels on the bottom of his sleigh this year, according to some forecasters.

Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the most snow the area could get is less than an inch within the next 24 hours. Forecasts call for partly sunny weather both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

"I would say the odds are not grand, but it will feel a little more like Christmas with the temperature," he said.

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Woodcock said temperatures are expected to drop into the teens on Saturday.

The last time at least an inch of snow fell in Hagerstown on Christmas Day was in 1993, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer. About 1.1 inches fell that year, with periods of light snow and snow squalls throughout the day.

It was the 10th time in the 20th century that Hagerstown had a true white Christmas.

On 16 other occasions during the century snow from previous storms was still on the ground by Christmas, according to Keefer.

The most recent year was 1995.

"It's rare to have any kind of snow on the ground at all," Keefer said.

The almanac, however, says there's a good chance for a white Christmas.

Bill O'Toole, the almanac's prognosticator, uses a formula developed by German and English farmers hundreds of years ago to make long-term weather predictions.

Under the legend, the closer a moon phase comes to the middle of the day, the better a chance for precipitation that week.

Hence, since the full moon will occur at 12:31 p.m. today, there is a good chance snow will fall on the following days.

"Without sunspots and El Nio, they tend to be pretty accurate," said O'Toole, who has published the predictions since 1970.

O'Toole, a professor of math and computer science at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., said the formula was dead-on during the early and mid-1970s and then fell off during the latter part of the decade. He said sunspots, which occur in 11-year cycles, throw off the calculations.

The international weather phenomena of the last two years, El Nio and La Nia, also reduced accuracy, he said.

In the years when Mother Nature has not delivered snow to Hagerstown on Christmas, she has brought almost every other conceivable weather.

In 1910, 1.5 inches of ice accumulated, according to Keefer's records.

Weather extremes have ranged from -5 degrees in 1983 to 66 degrees in 1964.

Perhaps the most eventful Christmas, from a weather standpoint, was that of 1979.

That year, Christmas Eve was warm, with the temperature hitting 59 degrees. High wind gusts kicked up at about 1 a.m. on Christmas Day and a small tornado caused damage in the Halfway area. By night, it was raining.

"I remember that. That was a pretty strange Christmas," said Keefer, who was living in the South End of Hagerstown at the time. "It woke me up. That wind was 60 mph at my house."

Almost anything is preferable to a sunny day with temperatures in the 40s and 50s on Christmas, Keefer said.

"That's really boring. They're the worst kinds of Christmases," he said.

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