Snow or no? Christmas not as white as it once was in Atlantic Canada

Trend is toward milder, greener Christmas mornings

Darrell Cole
Published on December 15, 2016

This graphic shows how the probably of a white Christmas has declined over the past several decades.


AMHERST, N.S. - There was a time when a white Christmas was as much a sure thing as, well, Christmas.

From a probability of more than 80 per cent a half century ago, white Christmases are becoming fewer and farther between.

We’re nearing a point where the odds of a green Christmas will be greater than a white one. Dave Phillips

. Today, the percentage is about 40 to 60 per cent depending on where you live on the East Coast.

(That is if you don’t live in St. John’s, NL, where it actually is more likely for you to have a white Christmas.)

“There will come a time when a white Christmas will just be a memory of the past,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said. “We’re nearing a point where the odds of a green Christmas will be greater than a white one.”

Phillips said climate change is playing a huge role in warmer winters with less snowfall, especially around the Christmas period.

“We have good records over 70 years. Where it has been slower to change has been in Atlantic Canada. It has been more pronounced in the west, like in Alberta and British Columbia, and in the north,” Phillips said. “Some people have suggested it’s because ice melting has cooled ocean waters so climate change has been slow to come to Atlantic Canada.”

A white Christmas is defined as having at least two cm of snow on the ground Christmas morning.
Looking back over the last dozen years, Phillips said the trend has been toward greener and milder Christmas mornings.

“All of those years have been warmer than normal,” he said. “If you look at a 30-year period, say, from the early 1980s on, you clearly see that in recent years there have been season after season warmer than normal. It has been slower to come and it hasn’t been as dramatic as in the interior of the continent.”

As much as climate is changing, Phillips said, people still have memories of the past that include frequent snowstorms throughout the winter and many white Christmases. While at one time it was very common to have at least 20 cm of snow on the ground on the morning of Dec. 25, today many areas of the Atlantic region are lucky if they have 10.

Still, while trends are pointing toward milder winters, there are wildcards and there will be years when the weather will be cold and snowy during the holiday period.

“This decade has proven there are periods when you wished you were somewhere else, but there have also been times when it has been El Niño and you’re, like, bring it on,” he said. “The variability has increased but the overall trend has been for warmer. Doesn't mean we can’t have a return to the winter of our youth but it’s something that’s becoming less so and there’s less of a possibility of it happening. It’s not zero.”