What are the odds against snow at Christmas? Stephen Roberts concludes his review of white Christmases with a glimpse of some seasonal weather patterns and superstitions.

Last year, bookies were snowed under with bets on a White Christmas and flurries - of both betting and snow - indeed affected many of England's cities. So what of the chances this year?

St Martin's Day, 11 November, is traditionally the day that foretells the weather to come. (London was bright, with a warm 13C.) Some believe that our chances of a white Christmas melted away with another warm September and October, and indeed the bookies were recently offering odds of 10- 1 against snow on Christmas Day, apparently safe in the knowledge that a hard, snowy winter rarely follows a mild autumn. However, 1938 experienced the second warmest November this century, yet produced a picture postcard white Christmas a month later.

So what does all this go to prove? Well, not a great deal, except those old truisms that it is rarely prudent to put total trust in a weatherman, and you never see a poor bookie.

Some folklore, however, prefers to read even earlier autumnal signs. An old rhyme goes: "If ducks swim at Hallowe'en, at Christmas the ducks will slide". Certainly animals seem more in tune with our weather and its vagaries than any number of weather "experts" with their computers. Thus, if you spot "geese flying high" or "squirrels weighed down with walnuts", I might advise you to make haste to your local bookies for a seasonal bet.

Perhaps the railways are the only ones right now who are having nightmares about a seasonal sprinkling of "the wrong sort of snow" at Christmas, such as brought the southeast network to a halt back in 1991. Most of us, however, will be willing it to snow on Christmas night, and despite the fact that fog is in reality more likely, those in the know reckon that we just might be in or a little snowy miracle this year.

Finally, if you fancy a little colour with your Christmas scene, how about a pink Christmas? Rarely in Britain, but more commonly in the mountains of Southern Europe, atmospheric dust mixes with snow to give it various tinges of orange, pink or even blue.

Stephen Roberts is Director of Weathernet, suppliers of weather data to the insurance industry.

Snow quote

"Snow makes us aware of silence, for in such a multitudinous falling we expect sound."

(William Soutar, 1933, Diaries of a Dying Man).