Eighty-one percent of Americans live in counties where Christmas probably won't be white. Among large metros, snowfall or snow cover on Christmas is most likely in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Buffalo, and Syracuse.
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Keep dreaming. For most Americans, chances aren't great for Christmastime snow. From our perch in snowless San Francisco, we crunched detailed weather data from the National Climatic Data Center for 1980-2013 to discover where Christmases tend to be white. But why should you listen to me, a Jewish guy in California? As it happens, I know from snow. I grew up in Rochester, NY, which is so snowy and overcast that as a child I thought the color of the sky was white, not blue. As we'll see, the numbers back me up.
It turns out -- who knew? -- that there's no universally agreed-upon definition of a white Christmas, according to our exhaustive research (i.e., checking Wikipedia). For Americans, white Christmas means an inch or more of snow on the ground. But, as my colleague who hails from down the Thruway in snowbound Buffalo pointed out, that could mean grimy old snow that fell days earlier. He prefers the British definition, which is any fresh snowfall on Christmas Day.
We were feeling generous with holiday spirit, so for this analysis we defined white Christmas as either snowfall of any amount or a snow cover of at least an inch. With that, we tallied the percentage of white Christmases from 1980 to 2013 in counties and metros across the country.
A White Christmas is Hard to Find
Sorry to say, your Christmas may be merry, but it probably won't be white. Half of American households live in counties where fewer than 10 percent of Christmases since 1980 have been white. And just 19 percent of households live where at least 50 percent of Christmases have been white. America's white Christmas belt runs from the upper Midwest across upstate New York to Maine, especially along the Great Lakes, as well as through the Rockies and other mountainous areas. Much of the white Christmas belt is thinly populated. Consider this: Measured by land area, an impressive 40 percent of the U.S. has a better than 50-50 chance of having a white Christmas -- 30 percent if we exclude big, snowy Alaska. But just 19 percent of households live in those wintry regions.
White Christmases Cost Less Green
So most of us won't see snow on Christmas. But if you want to make your dreams of a white Christmas come true, you might be able to afford it. Housing prices are comparatively low in the metros with the snowiest Christmases, particularly Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse in upstate New York, as well as Grand Rapids, MI. What's the white Christmas capital of the U.S.? It's Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Christmases are white 79 percent of the time. Home asking prices in these winter wonderlands are far below what's typical on the coasts and below the national average for large metros.
As the figure below shows, white Christmases are rare in more expensive metros. And in the priciest markets, in California and Hawaii, they're unheard of. The only expensive markets that have at least a 25 percent chance of a white Christmas are Boston and neighboring Middlesex County and Peabody.
After this year's polar vortex, East Coasters might feel like they deserve a white Christmas -- right? Here's why they're not on the whitest-Christmas list. Shoveling deeper into the data, we found that Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and other metros on the eastern seaboard tend to get most of their snowfall later in winter. In contrast, upstate New York, the upper Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain metros tend to get more of their annual snow dump a little earlier -- including around Christmastime. One reason for the difference is that the Great Lakes region gets lake-effect snow caused by colder air passing over warmer water. That's common early in winter before the lakes get cold or freeze. Plus, the snow that does fall is more likely to stick where the ground and the air are cold, and the Atlantic Ocean keeps those East Coast metros a little more temperate until later in the winter.
Whether or not your dreams include a white Christmas, all of us at the Trulia Trends team hope they come true. Merry Christmas -- or Happy Holidays if you live in a region where that's more appropriate -- and Happy New Year in 2015!