Dreaming of a white Christmas? What are the odds?

Interactive map from Book of Odds helps clarify my childhood memories

CommunityWalk Map - What are the odds of a White Christmas?

CommunityWalk Map - What are the odds of a White Christmas?

White Christmas maps are as old as Santa Claus, but Book of Odds -- which recently launched an interesting "What are the chances?" Web site -- has assembled a particularly good one here. (Linked version is more user-friendly than one above.)

The map might help you understand your own perceptions and misconceptions of the correlation between snow and Christmas where you live. It did for me.

(2010's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

I've always had the white Christmas bug -- my memories seem dominated by the phenomenon to the extent that I fully expect there to be snow on the holiday, irrespective of the fact that the TV weather people and statistics say it's less likely than most believe, even here in Massachusetts.

Why the disconnect? Well, I get a clue from the Book of Odds map: I have lived virtually my entire life in communities that are roughly between the cities of Boston and Providence, R.I., with all of my youth having been spent in a Massachusetts border town a short drive from the Rhode Island capital.

Despite the proximity to Providence, I've always watched Boston television news and consequently gotten a Boston-centric view of the white Christmas question.

In Boston the odds of a white Christmas are 1 in 4.35 -- not all that great.

In Providence, 40 miles to the south, the odds are a significantly better 1 in 2.7.

So chances are I was not dreaming of all those white Christmases of my youth; given my nearness to Providence it seems reasonable to conclude that they happened more frequently in my neighborhood than Boston's TV weather talkers would have had us think.

Your white Christmases will vary, of course, but it's fun to check out various cities on the map. A few examples: Montpelier, Vt., 1 in 1.08; Bangor, Me., 1 in 1.11; Detroit, 1 in 2; Chicago, 1 in 2.5; Louisville, Ky., 1 in 7.69; Reno, Nev., 1 in 5; and so on.

By the way, have you ever wondered how Christmas ever became so entwined with snow on the ground despite the fact that the two don't happen simultaneously where most of you live? In poking around Google for this post I stumbled across this article from AccuWeather.com.

Blame it on what Climatologists call "The Little Ice Age," a period when the entire globe was much cooler than it is now, causing raw, extended winters across northern parts of Europe and the U.S. The Little Ice Age generally is said to have ended in the mid 1800's after the third minimum of global temperatures occurred [WikiPedia]. It turns out that much of Christmas lore is trapped inside.

The image below shows temperatures during the last 1000 years (redder colors indicate more recent (probably more reliable studies). Global Warming aside, it's clear that we're much warmer now than we were in 1600, or even 1850.The pink area indicates the Little Ice Age and the dark pink band indicates the time during which the most memorable Christmas stories were written. Below I discuss three of the most famous pieces.

So how's it looking for a white Christmas here? Not great. What we have on the ground -- not much -- is melting by the day. There is talk of a possible storm over the weekend, though. Fingers crossed.

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