Answered by Kurt Buffalo, Meteorologist, NOAA
That is always a popular question during the holiday season, and one that can be challenging to answer very far in advance. The official definition of a white Christmas is having at least one inch of snow on the ground on Christmas Day. The map below shows the chance of a white Christmas across the country for any given year based on past weather history, and not surprisingly, the chances are better the farther north you go. You can see that overall, we historically have a pretty good chance of having a white Christmas here in Idaho.
Zooming in closer to home (see map below), it’s evident that chances for a white Christmas vary significantly across eastern Idaho, with lesser chances in the lower elevations of the Snake Plain and much higher chances in the mountains as would be expected. Taking a closer look at a few of the larger eastern Idaho communities, the chances for a white Christmas in any given year are 72% at Idaho Falls, 79% at Rexburg, and 73% on the bench areas of Pocatello. So roughly 3 out of every 4 years, we have a white Christmas in these areas. However, chances drop off considerably as you move lower into the Snake Plain, with probabilities dropping to 48% at the Pocatello airport west of town and 39% at Burley.
So will we have a white Christmas this year? Well, for the lower elevation population centers on the edge of the Snake Plain such as Idaho Falls, Rexburg, and Pocatello, it’s hard to say yes or no with much confidence until we get within about 5-7 days of Christmas. The map below showing snow depth as of December 13 indicates that most of the Snake Plain currently has around 3 inches or less of snow on the ground.
Looking ahead to the forecast, we’re currently not seeing any major winter storms on the horizon over the next week or so. However, we will likely see at least a few weak storm systems move through the area, bringing some snow to the mountains and possibly some light snow to the valleys. Temperature wise, we’re anticipating a period of warmer than average conditions coming up, before giving way to another cooler period during the few days leading up to Christmas.
So we’ll likely melt off much of the snow currently on the ground at lower elevations, and will have to count on at least a weak storm or two to bring some fresh snow to assure a white Christmas this year. It’s difficult to say with any confidence this far out whether this will happen or not. The best thing to do is visit weather.gov to track the latest forecasts as we draw closer to Christmas, including whether we’re likely to see any snow actually falling on Christmas Day. And remember, if you really want a white Christmas, the mountains are only a short drive away, and you’re virtually guaranteed a white Christmas there!
Preserve a Snowflake
All you need for this activity is a piece of glass, aerosol hairspray and toothpicks. Place the glass in the freezer and keep the hairspray in the refrigerator so they won’t melt the snowflakes.
When it’s snowing, lightly spray one side of the glass with hairspray. Let it set a few minutes.
Catch the snowflakes on the sticky side of the glass. Using a toothpick, gently move the snowflake, if needed. Lightly spray another coat of hairspray. Put the glass back in the freezer and protect it from being rubbed on the surface. Leave it untouched for several hours so that the hairspray can dry and the water in the snowflake can disappear (sublimate). You now have the imprint of a snowflake on the glass you can study.