Skip to main content
RCC 40th Anniversary Logo

Recent and historical weather data customized to meet your needs

White El Niño Christmas

1951-2020 probabilities el nino probabilities

Probabilities of a white Christmas for select Northeast cities based on data from 1951-2020 (left) and 25 El Niño years (right).

Typically, we look at a long-term average to determine the probability of a white Christmas (years with at least an inch of snow on the ground). But this year we have a strong El Niño event to guide us, like Rudolph’s nose in the foggy night. There have been 25 El Niño seasons since 1951.

probability chart

Probability of 1" or more snow on the ground on December 25th based on data from 1951-2020 (left) and 26 El Niño years(right).

Looking at these El Niño years gives a different expectation for some areas. Places that typically see lots of Lake Effect Snow have lower probabilities of a white Christmas. For instance, Syracuse, NY and Buffalo, NY are 33 percent less likely to have a white Christmas during El Niño events. This corresponds to winter El Niño conditions; Buffalo’s two least snowy winters since 1950 occurred during strong El Niño events. Coastal areas can see greater snowfall during El Niño winters, but little difference was noted looking only at December 25th.

buffalo graph

Buffalo, NY temperature and precipitation departures during El Niño winters. The strong event of 2015/2016 was warm and dry.

2015/16 snowfall dept

Snowfall departure from normal for the 2015/2016 winter, during a strong El Niño event.

Winter snowfall was well below normal in New York and New England during the strong 2015/2016 El Niño event, but southern areas of the region had above-normal snowfall.

temp outlook map

Temperature outlook for December 22-28.

We can also look to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center for their outlook. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows. It glows bright red favoring above-normal temperatures for December 22-28.

If you’re hoping to join in any reindeer games, you’ll probably have to do them without any snow. This might even go down in history, for one of the strongest El Niño events on record.