December 2011: Mild so far; Snow “drought” continues…for now

Updraft Headlines:

+2.7 degrees temps vs. average at MSP so far in December 2011

7.9″ season to date snowfall at MSP Airport

15.5″ average snowfall to date at MSP Airport

-7.6″ below average snowfall so far this season at MSP

51% of average snowfall so far at MSP

(season to date as of December 15th)

6.8″ season snowfall so far in Duluth

23.7″ season average snowfall in Duluth to date

29% of average snowfall to date in Duluth through December 15th!

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More brown (and even green!) than white at the weather lab as of December 15th

When in a drought, don’t forecast rain or snow:

Old words of wisdom from senior forecasters at “Weather Command” back in the 80s when I was cutting my teeth in the weather biz. This wise idea is based on the notion of “persistence.” Weather patterns, for better or worse tend to hold once they are established.

Last December we could barely come up for air between snowy blasts. This year there’s not enough to make a snowball at the Weather Lab in the west metro.

In fact my lawn was surprisingly green yesterday as rain soaked in.

In late November I talked about the growing odds of a “Brown Christmas” this year, which I boosted to 70% as of this Monday.

Here’s a more thorough accounting of our chances for a white Christmas taken from my November 29th Updraft post.

72% Historical chances of a white Christmas in the metro

2006 last Christmas with just a trace of snow in the metro

19″ snow cover at MSP Airport on December 25th, 2010

.03″ GFS model forecast precipitation through December 15th (0Z run)

40 degrees GFS forecast high temp for Metro on December 13th

50% Current Weather Lab odds for a brown Christmas in the metro and southern Minnesota

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Brown lawn and dry birdbath at the weather lab today

Where’s winter?

Yes it sort of feels like winter today in Minnesota; it just doesn’t look like winter. My brown lawn at the weather lab in the west metro is begging for rain or snow.

Our historical or “climatological” odds for a white Christmas (at least 1″ of snow on the ground) in the metro are 72%.

The odds for Christmas white approach 100% as you move north from Brainerd and Virginia to Ely, Biwabik and Embarrass.

Chances for a white Christmas drop to about 60% in southwest Minnesota around Pipestone and Luverne.

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Here are some other Minnesota cities and the historical probability of a white Christmas:

-Brainerd: 97%

-Duluth Airport: 98%

-Grand Marais: 89%

-Hutchinson: 64%

-Mankato: 68%

-Morehead: 84%

-Ortonville: 70%

-Owatonna: 71%

-Pipestone: 66%

-Redwood Falls: 61%

-Rochester: 78%

-St. Cloud: 74%

-Worthington: 76%

Lake Wilson in southwest Minnesota has the lowest historical probability of a white Christmas of any Minnesota reporting location at 57%.

We’ve seen less than 1″ snow cover on 31 of 111 years in the Twin Cities dating back to 1899.

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Bug Island on Lake Minnetonka rests in 5″ of snow cover in December 2009.

Christmas 2011: Brown or white?

We’re about to close out the driest fall on record in the metro and much of southern Minnesota. The growing drought shows no signs of easing on the medium range forecast maps. Other than a minor dusting of snow Thursday and another chance along about December 10th, the maps look eerily quiet. No big “Domebuster” type storms in sight so far this year. Nothing more than “a flake an acre” between now and mid-December?

The maps can turn on a dime this time of year, but at this point it seems likely that we may get to December 15th without significant snow cover in much of Minnesota.

If that happens our chances for a brown Christmas will increase dramatically.

The last time you probably saw your lawn on Christmas Day in the metro was 2006 when a trace was recorded at MSP Airport. MSP Airport also recorded just a trace of snow in 2002 and 1997.

That translates into a brown Christmas about every 4 or 5 years in the past 14 years. We still may manage 1″ of snow between now and Christmas, but historically speaking we’re due for another brown Christmas in the metro.

The whitest Christmas ever in the metro was 20″ in 1983. Last year was #2 with 19″ on the ground at MSP on Christmas Day!

They say when in a drought, don’t forecast rain or snow. Looking at the maps, I’d put the odds of a brown Christmas this year in the metro at 50/50 right now. The weather maps may still gin up a storm, and bring us the gift of winter white for Christmas this year.

Personally, I’m hoping for at least a little snow between now and December 25th!”


I never imagined I’d have to start posting the odds of a Green Christmas! Only in Minnesota.

Clinging to slight snow chances:

There are two possible chances for snow in the metro and southern Minnesota between now and Christmas. At this point, neither one looks terribly promising for delivering a white Christmas, but at least there some hope for those who want snow.

Friday: Weak Clipper – a weak Clipper sailing through tomorrow may bring a dusting of snow to Minnesota. Snowfall potential looks light, generally under an inch.

Next Thursday: The overnight GFS model run spun up a potential low pressure system over Minnesota next Thursday December 22nd. If it verifies, that could produce some snow late next week.

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GFS model hinting at snow potential on December 22nd. Could it “save” a White Christmas?

As we say in the weather biz…stay tuned!


  • Carol Kepple

    Thanks for the info Paul. I just returned from the past 2 winters in Western Washington. Now that I am back in Minnesota, I am wondering if the snowless mild Washington weather followed me back home.