Colorado State University Researcher Releases Likelihood for a White Christmas

Although strong Pacific storms moving into Colorado are providing some optimism for a white Christmas, a researcher from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University said that fresh snow on Christmas morning is not likely for most parts of the state.

According to Nolan Doesken, research climatologist at the Climate Center, a progression of strong systems are moving into the state, but temperatures are warming and snow is fizzling as storms cross the Continental Divide. Probabilities are low for fresh snow falling along the Front Range and Eastern Plains on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

"It does not often snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at lower elevations, especially east of the mountains and over southeastern Colorado," said Nolan Doesken, research climatologist at the Climate Center. "If you really want snow for Christmas, head to the high elevations. Fresh snow is quite common this time of year in Colorado’s north and central mountains."

According to Doesken, this year’s El Nino conditions in the Pacific have increased the probabilities of a white Christmas along the Front Range, eastern plains and San Luis Valley as compared to last year. The chances of having old snow (snow that fell previously and has not yet melted) on the ground for Christmas is two to three times greater than the chances of receiving fresh snow. Doesken added that Colorado’s mountains almost always have snow on the ground.

Last year brought no fresh snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day anywhere in the state. Two years ago, many parts of Colorado enjoyed snowfall on Christmas Day, mostly between a half-inch and 3 inches.

"The most memorable white Christmas along the Colorado Front Range came in 1982. A ferocious Christmas Eve blizzard brought two feet of snow to Denver and brought travel to a standstill," said Doesken. "In 1983 snow was also fairly deep. That year a pre-Christmas cold wave had left temperatures continuously below zero for five days."

Doesken compiled the following probability chart analyzing snow on the ground and fresh snow for Dec. 24-25, 2002, for 19 locations statewide. The chart is based on a long-term history of the areas under all conditions. According to the analysis, the area least likely to receive Christmas snowfall in Colorado this year is Colorado Springs. The most likely places to have at least 1 inch of snow on the ground for Christmas are Aspen, Berthoud Pass, Dillon, Steamboat Springs and Telluride.

Chances for having snow on Christmas

Location One inch or more of snow on ground on Christmas One-half inch or more of fresh snow on Dec. 24 or 25
Alamosa 47% 12%
Aspen 98% 38%
Berthoud Pass 100% 65%
Boulder 43% 23%
Colorado Springs 25% 8%
Denver 45% 20%
Dillon 96% 28%
Durango 64% 24%
Estes Park 54% 19%
Fort Collins 42% 15%
Grand Junction 32% 13%
Greeley 33% 16%
Lamar 25% 14%
Pueblo 23% 11%
Salida 26% 12%
Sedgwick 37% 15%
Steamboat Springs 97% 44%
Telluride 96% 35%
Trinidad 28% 19%

*Prepared by Colorado Climate Center, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Colorado State University.