A Very Wet Year, and Chances for a White Christmas

by Tom Ross

In hopes for a white Christmas, let’s take a look at the historical record. These snowfall numbers/percentages are based on the records taken at the Asheville Airport, and the early years of the record are based on the data from the old Asheville city office, which was in the Grove Arcade building. So the probabilities for the rural Fairview area may be a couple of percentage points higher, but generally it will be very close.

The percentage chance of seeing at least a trace or a few flakes of snow on Christmas day is about 26 percent. This is based on the daily snowfall records that go back continuously from 1888 through 2016. There has been at least a trace of snow reported on 34 separate occasions on Christmas day. The largest snowfall on Christmas day actually happened in 2010. In that year, between 8 to 10 inches of snow fell, making it the snowiest Christmas on record since reliable daily snowfall records began. The probability of getting accumulating snow – let’s say a third of an inch or more – isn’t that high, only about 7 percent. This happened on only nine out of 126 occasions on Christmas day since 1888.

A Wet Year

In terms of precipitation, for a good part of the year we’ve had an active pattern bringing plenty of moisture our way. In the Fairview area, most places have received over 60 inches of precipitation this year, and the wettest locations closest to the escarpment in the eastern part of the county were approaching 70 inches as of mid-November. If you think it’s been cloudy and wet recently, you’re right! The wettest year I have experienced was back in 1997, with 75 inches of precipitation, and we’re within striking distance of breaking that record if the year remains wet.

The old adage of “as the days grow shorter, the days get colder” has a bit of truth for December. In terms of averages, temperatures continue to drop as we head through the month, with average highs about 53 at the start of December, dropping to 47 by month’s end. The lows drop from 32 at the beginning of the month to 27 by the end of December. The warmest day on record was 81 on December 31, 1951; the coldest was a numbing -7 on the Christmas Day in 1983. The average precipitation for the Fairview area is around four inches in December, with the average snowfall for the month close to two inches.   

Next month’s article will talk about Cold Air Damming (CAD) and its role in our weather.

Meteorologist Tom Ross managed the Climate Database Modernization Program at the National Climatic Data Center.

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