As we enter the final days before Christmas and temperatures begin to plummet once more, the thoughts of many Britons are inevitably turning towards whether the country will finally see the fabled blankets of snow we promise ourselves every year on a million greetings cards but which rarely actually materialise.
Our obsession with the phenomenon cannot be blamed solely on Charles Dickens, who depicted memorably snowy Christmases in The Pickwick Papers and “A Christmas Carol”, as it was a regular occurrence between 1550 and 1850, when the UK was in the grip of a “Little Ice Age” and endured temperatures so low that it was still possible to hold a “Frost Fair” on the frozen surface of the River Thames in London as late as the winter of 1813/14.
Bing Crosby’s famous song “White Christmas” from the 1954 film of the same name, first groaned by the American crooner in the earlier Holiday Inn, has also unquestionably played an important role in planting the idea within the popular imagination, its association of the yearning for winter snows with sorrow at the loss of one’s youth as irresistibly poignant a theme as it is universal.
So how about our prospects for 2021?
Rain is expected through the rest of Thursday and Friday and Christmas Day will see continued showers across much of Wales and central and southern England.
But there could be as much as 10cm of snow on higher ground in Scotland on Thursday evening and into Friday morning.
There is also a chance of some snow in England but meteorologists said “this exact location is still uncertain”, with the Peak District, Pennines and Southern Uplands thought to be most likely.
Deputy chief meteorologist Chris Bulmer said: “The Christmas period will be a fairly unsettled spell across the UK this year. Many will see wet and cloudy conditions as mild air dominates over the south and west of the UK.
“Where this mild air meets colder air trying to sink south there is a chance of some Christmas snow, this is looking most likely over the Pennines, however exactly where this boundary will be is still uncertain. In the far north cold conditions and clearer skies will bring a more wintry feel.
“For many areas a brisk easterly wind will bring a notable wind chill.”
Whatever the cards may promise, the fact is that the weather on Christmas Day has been incredibly variable for decades, with the coldest temperature ever recorded in the British Isles an astonishing -18.3C, which struck Gainford in Durham in 1878, according to the Met Office.
By contrast, the warmest was a positively sweltering 15.6C, which was noted in Killerton, Devon, in 1920.
The deepest snow ever seen on Christmas morning was the 47cm recorded at Kindrogan in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1981.
In the 21st century, the looming spectre of climate change means we can expect higher temperatures over land and sea, which would in turn suggest the chance of a White Christmas in Britain is now less likely.
But the Met Office does offer grounds for hope on that point, declaring: “The natural variability of the weather will not stop cold, snowy winters happening in the future. In fact, in terms of widespread sleet/snow falling across the UK on Christmas Day, between 1971 and 1992 there was only one year (1980), whereas in the years 1993 to 2004 there were six such occasions.”
The yardstick for ruling that a White Christmas has occurred used to be a lone snowflake being spotted falling on the Met Office operations centre in London but, since the service moved to Exeter in September 2006, the phenomenon is now officially confirmed if so much as a single snowflake is spotted falling at any point within the 24 hours of 25 December at one of 12 major UK airports.
Technically, the last White Christmas in the UK took place on 25 December 2017, when 11 per cent of British weather stations reported snow falling, even though none of it settled on the ground.
We did see flurries of snow on the ground in 2015 but the last really significant and widespread deluge came in 2010, the coldest December in a century, when 83 per cent of weather stations reported flakes on the pavement.
Bookmaker William Hill, basing its calculations on information from Exacta Weather, says Edinburgh and Leeds are its current joint favourite locations at 4/9, followed by Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester on 10/11.
Rupert Adams, a spokesperson for William Hill, said: “As ironic as this may sound, we’re now seeing forecasters slowly warming to the idea of a White Christmas. There has been a quiet confidence about the prospect, behind closed doors, for some time, but many have been unwilling to stake their reputation on it.
“As soon as we ticked into the crucial five-day window of being able to forecast snow, those calling snow on the big day got a bit louder and as a consequence punters have been indulging in a festive flurry flutter with renewed confidence.
“After such a turbulent, and at times torrid, 12 months, wouldn’t it be magical to wake up on Christmas day to blankets of fluffy white snow!”
Also offering odds on a winter wonderland is Coral, which currently makes it odds on for a White Christmas this year at 1/2 and fancies Edinburgh (4/5) as its likeliest locale with Newcastle on evens, ahead of Manchester (6/4) and London (3/1).
“It is only a matter of time before large parts of the UK see some and our betting still suggests it could arrive in time to make it a White Christmas this year,” said spokesman John Hill.
“Those in Scotland and the northern parts of England have the best chance of seeing snow on Christmas Day.”
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