Breakdown: Why a White Christmas is rare in the Mid-South

Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 11:40 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -A White Christmas in the Mid-South is rare but in order to back up that statement we have to look back at climatology. According to the National Weather Service Memphis, here’s the weather that’s happened on Christmas Day in Memphis since 1889.

Records date back to 1889 and it reveals that Memphis has had measurable snow on Christmas only once in 132 years! That lucky year was in 1913 when 3.5 inches of snow fell!

On the other 11 occasions, only a few flakes fell, which were not measurable -- 1914, 1918, 1926, 1939, 1948, 1975, 1980, 1992, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

There were a few other times when snow was on the ground Christmas morning but fell in previous storms. The storm that produced the greatest amount of snow on the ground was 1963 when 10 inches covered the city Christmas morning. In 1962 and 2004 both years had 2 inches of snow on the ground, and in 1998 there was 1 inch on the ground and traces of snow on Christmas mornings in 1897,1966, 1980, and 1990.

The warmest Christmas Day was 76 degrees in 1889, and the coldest Christmas was in 1983 with a temperature of 0 degrees.

While a Memphis snow is rare on Christmas Day, rain has fallen several times. Christmas was rainy 50 times in the last 144 years; sleet or freezing rain happened three times. The wettest Christmas Day was in 1987 when 4.24 inches of rain fell in Memphis.

So why is this the case?

While December is the second coldest month in the Mid-South, the average low temperature is 35 and the average high is 52. While the month of December may have some cold days, it is usually above freezing.

In January, which is the coldest and snowiest month, the average low is 32 and the average high is 50. It is easier to get snow when cold temperatures are already in place. Last year 2020 was cold with highs just barely reaching above the freezing mark at 33 degrees and the low was 21 degrees.

According to research, the amount of area that is covered by snow in North America is decreasing. One reason for the decrease in snow covered ground is the percentage of precipitation that falls is falling more as rain instead of snow in many areas.

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