Back in September, a maverick weather forecaster predicted a big freeze towards the end of the year. However, this forecast was followed by a very warm October, with some of the highest temperatures of year recorded in the north and west. Last month then turned out to be the second warmest November in 100 years and so far this month, the forecast has been dominated by strong winds rather than a widespread wintry blast. So far he has been totally off the mark.
Those weather headlines in September sold newspapers, and in part perhaps that's because a dusting of snow at this time of year fulfills our romantic notion of what Christmas should look like.
However this time last year the weather was far from idyllic; the snow scene across the country may have looked stunning but it caused chaos across the country. For some it was hellish, others just a huge inconvenience. The whiteout wasn't welcome. December 2010 was the coldest in 100 years. I would love to indulge you in the fascinating atmospheric explanation behind this, but in short, 2010 was a freak combination of El Nino and a rare occurrence of an extremely negative NAO or North Atlantic Oscillation (which translates to cold air from the Arctic extending far to the south of the UK).
Currently, the indications are that Christmas 2011 will not repeat this pattern. In fact William Hill has healthy odds of 16/1 that 25 December will beat the current top temperature of 15.6C, set in Devon in 1920.
Climatologically, snow or sleet falls on an average of five days in December compared to 7.6 days in January, 6.8 days in February and six days in March. However, white Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th Centuries and even more so before the change of calendar in 1752 that effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days.
Rising temperatures due to climate change in the last 50 years has also reduced the risk of a white festive season.
The Met Office, who had nothing to do with the 'big freeze' headlines in September, have issued its forecast for the next few weeks. It is likely to remain windy with showers and risk of snow over the hills of Wales northwards. Next week will stay unsettled with further showers, and feeling cold with the risk of frost or ice overnight. The Christmas weekend may become drier and clearer in the south, but unsettled conditions will persist in the north and they could occasionally be wintry.
So there is a chance of seeing a little snow on Christmas day this year, particularly over Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland, but its more likely to be over the hills, and my bet is that sledge sales in the south could struggle.
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