As the climate crisis worsens, the likelihood of experiencing a white Christmas in the UK diminishes.

Some parts of the UK have experienced decades without snow during Christmas, and in the past, it was more of a struggle than a dream.

While Bing Crosby may have longed for a white Christmas, it appears that this nostalgia could soon become a thing of the past in the UK. Not only do records show that certain areas of the country have gone without a Christmas snowfall for many years, but experts suggest that the chances of experiencing a white Christmas are diminishing due to the climate crisis.

According to the Met Office, a Christmas in the UK is considered white if at least one snowflake is observed falling on 25 December within a 24-hour period. Although last year technically qualified as a white Christmas, none of the Met Office observation stations reported snow on the ground.

“To witness widespread and substantial snow cover on Christmas Day, we have to look back to 2010,” stated Nicola Maxey, spokesperson for the Met Office.

Between 1960 and 2020, London had six white Christmases, Cardiff had four, and both Belfast and Edinburgh had 11. However, within that timeframe, London experienced stretches of up to 20 years without Christmas snow.

Unfortunately, Crosby’s dream is progressively becoming more distant. “Climate change has led to higher average temperatures, which has reduced the likelihood of a white Christmas,” explained Maxey.

Experts have discovered that the probability of snowfall on Christmas Eve has increased in some parts of southern and eastern England. They suggest that part of the explanation may be the rarity of such an event, as even a small number of snowy Christmases can impact the overall trend.

The romantic connection between Christmas and snow is somewhat unreliable. Around the time Bing Crosby sang about it in the early 1940s, a wintry Christmas was far from a distant memory. The winter of 1939-40 was one of the coldest on record, and the winters of 1946-47 and 1962-63 were also noteworthy for their widespread snowfall.

Going further back, snowy Christmases were even more common. The “little ice age” that chilled the North Atlantic region from the 16th to the 19th century resulted in frost fairs on the frozen River Thames and winters with average temperatures around 0.5 degrees Celsius.

These cold conditions may have inspired writers like Dickens to depict quintessential festive landscapes. “There was a cluster of exceptionally cold Christmases in the 1830s and early 1840s, which preceded the publication of ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843. Perhaps these events contributed to our ongoing national association of snow and Christmas,” suggested Maxey.

However, not everyone viewed these winters with nostalgia, considering the hardships they brought to those living in poverty. Georgina Endfield, a professor of environmental history at the University of Liverpool, emphasized that the bitter winters of 1794-95 and 1813-14 occurred during a time of food shortages due to the Napoleonic war.

Endfield pointed out that there is a bias at play, where the dramatic and extreme weather tends to become culturally and socially embedded. “We tend to romanticize it, but [a wintry Christmas] was filled with hardships,” she added.

Timing also plays a role. The switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 resulted in 11 days being removed from September, effectively bringing forward 25 December to an earlier point in the winter where it remains today. “Christmas falls at the beginning of the snowy season,” noted Maxey, highlighting that wintry weather is more common in January.

Currently, it remains uncertain whether this Christmas will be white in the UK. Maxey acknowledged that predicting snow weeks in advance is notoriously challenging, as a small temperature fluctuation can determine whether precipitation falls as rain or snow. “There is often a fine line between who sees snow and who sees rain,” she explained.

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