News

Chances of a white Christmas prove to be a statistical long shot


As waves pound the Tillamook Bay Jetty Sunday, winter is here, but there may not be much snow on the horizon for the coast this Christmas. – Photo provided by Rick Hampton

While much of the world pinpoints the winter solstice on Dec. 21 as the beginning of winter, in the world of meteorology, winter begins on Dec. 1. So, winter is not coming, it is here.
By Morris Malakoff
If it has seemed a bit wetter than normal as we came through November, David Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Portland said that, in fact, November was a very dry month in northwestern Oregon.
“It was a month on the dryer side,” said Bishop. “If fact, at Astoria, there was a total accumulation of 7.77 inches of precipitation, 3.38 inches below the average.”
What made the month seem so wet, he said, was a series of particularly wet days starting after Thanksgiving, specifically Nov. 26.
“That day Astoria received 2. 13 inches of precipitation,” he said. “Four other days that week each saw more than a half-inch per day.”
That would mean in less than a week, more than half of all precipitation measured in November fell to earth.
As for it feeling colder, again, Bishop discounts people’s intuitive feelings and perceptions with science.
“That feeling of cold may be personal,” he said. “Some people feel a chill while others claim to be sweating.”
He said that the fact is that temperatures are not too far from normal, but that breezes and dampness can combine to bring forth the oft dreaded “wind chill factor.”
“That only impacts people and animals,” he said. “Not cars and faucets and such,” he continued.
December opened with more clear skies and sunny days, but that means cold nights. But it is a short-lived situation.
“By the weekend, clouds and rain will return,” he said. “A typical weather pattern for this time of year.”
He said we are in the early stages of a ‘weak’ El Nino year, meaning it is truly unclear what might happen this winter as of this time of the season.
“The Climate Prediction Center (a part of the National Weather Service Office), will reexamine the situation every 30 days or so to see how it is playing out. They look at El Nino as coming in three distinct parts and we are just in the early stages,” he said.
Now, as to that issue of a “White Christmas…”
“We can only go on past statistics,” said Bishop. “Records have been kept at Astoria for 125 years. In that time, snow on Christmas Day has occurred about five-percent of the time.”
Basic math says that would be about six times since 1892, less than once every two decades.
Bishop said that for those pining for a white Christmas, do not despair.
“These are only statistical averages,” he said. “The weather is not an exact science and it can still happen. Besides, here at the National Weather Service, despite all the science saying the odds are against it, half the staff is still hoping for a white Christmas.”