White Christmas likely in Western Canada, unlikely in East

With only four more days to go, many Canadians are wondering if it will begin to look a lot like Christmas come Dec. 25. Environment Canada has been wondering, too.

If it seems like white Christmases are happening less frequently in Canada, it's because they are

Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips says Western Canada can expect to see white Christmases, but Eastern Canada, including Montreal, can expect to see green Christmases. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

With only four more days to go, many Canadians are wondering if it will begin to look a lot like Christmas come Dec. 25.

Environment Canada has been wondering, too. 

The weather agency has taken almost six decades of records from over 40 major city centres in Canada, and crunched the numbers to see what the probabilities in each place are for a white Christmas.

"Canada is the snowiest country in the world," says Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips.

"You know what a white Christmas is in England? It's if someone sees a flake of snow."

Here's what Canada can expect on Christmas Day.

Toronto is experiencing its warmest November/December in city history. (CBC)

East versus west

According to Phillips, Eastern Canada will mostly have a green Christmas, while the West can expect white. He adds that no one in Canada is expecting a "perfect" Christmas, which the agency defines as more than two centimetres of snow on the ground and in the air, respectively, on Christmas Day.

"The famous Canadian East-West divide will stay intact," says Phillips.

Many cities in the Prairie provinces can expect a white Christmas, as well as the B.C. interior.

Winnipeg, which managed to have a perfect white Christmas last year, is experiencing one of its warmest winters, but Phillips says things may still work out in the city's favour.

The city historically has a 98 per cent chance of a white Christmas, and with snow and relatively mild temperatures in the forecast — meaning –9, –10 and –11 degrees — Winnipeg's prospects look good.

Although Calgary typically only has a 58 per cent chance of having a white Christmas, Phillips says it's 'a lock' for the city this year. (File photo/CBC)

Despite not getting much snow, Regina has a 92 per cent chance of seeing a white Christmas but Calgary is "a flip of a coin," with the city usually only having a 58 per cent chance, Phillips said. 

However, there are currently seven centimetres of snow on the ground, with no melting temperatures in the forecast. There will be lots of sunshine and some slight snow evaporation as a result, but Phillips says the city has "a lock on a comfortable, white Christmas."

Vancouver and Victoria, unlike most of B.C., have "no chance" of seeing a white Christmas.

Although the two cities typically only have a 10 per cent chance of seeing one, Phillips says it's happened before.

"In 2008, Canadians woke up to learn that the whitest Christmas in the whole country was in Vancouver and Victoria, where 41 centimetres of snow on the ground. More than the North Pole," recalls Phillips.

Although Vancouver usually only has a 10 per cent chance of seeing a white Christmas, the west coast city saw 41 cm of snow Dec. 25, 2008. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

Whitehorse, Iqaluit and Yellowknife, meanwhile, are basically guaranteed to have a white Christmas. All three cities have a 100 per cent chance of it, according to Environment Canada.

The East will likely see southerly, balmy, almost tropical weather with rain and temperatures in the double digits.

Montreal is experiencing record low snowfall, with the city seeing only 3.4 centimetres of snow so far this winter compared to the 46 centimetres usually seen there. Like last year, the city is likely to see a green Christmas, making it the third time that's happened back-to-back, and the first time that's happened since 1998-1999.

Ottawa, the snowiest national capital in the world, will have its "reputation at stake," according to Phillips. The capital is experiencing its warmest November and December on record, and has only seen 0.6 centimetres of snow — another record low — compared to the usual 51 centimetres.

Ottawa has seen a record low 0.6 centimetres of snow this winter. (Christopher Pike/Reuters)

In Toronto, people "will have to pray, not dream, for a white Christmas," says Phillips.

The country's biggest city is, like Ottawa, experiencing its warmest November and December ever, and will not see a flake of snow for the next week.

"A white Christmas is not going to happen [for Toronto]. You can go to the bank on that," Phillips says.

If people in Toronto want to see a white Christmas, Phillips suggests they make their own snow and "throw it on their lawns." 

But what if you're an Ontario resident who just needs to have a white Christmas?

Although Sudbury has a 95 per cent chance of having one and Thunder Bay has a 90 per cent chance, Phillips suggests opting for Timmins, the snowiest place in the province.

"If it's your bucket list wish to see a perfect and white Christmas, head to Timmins," he says.

The city has a 98 per cent chance of a white Christmas, and it will be snowing every day until then.

Atlantic Canada, including Charlottetown, may not see a white Christmas, despite seeing heavy snowfalls earlier this month. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

People in Atlantic Canada, according to Phillips, were "seduced" into thinking they were going to have a white Christmas after the region saw heavy snowfall earlier this month. But, he said, the snow is "all going to disappear," with Fredericton and St. John's likely to see light rain and temperatures pushing into the double digits.

There might not be much of a chance for a white Christmas in the Maritimes, except for maybe Goose Bay, but Phillips says there may still be some upsides.

"The in-laws can probably leave on time due to lack of snow, so it's a semi-perfect Christmas for some people," he says.

It's getting hot in here

If it seems like white Christmases are happening in Canada less and less frequently, it's because they are.

Phillips says weather data Environment Canada has been mulling over points to winters in this country getting warmer, resulting in fewer white Christmases.

Since 1948, the average temperature nationwide during winter has increased by three degrees, the most for any season, with winter temperatures in the Atlantic up 0.3 degrees, while up five degrees in B.C. and the Yukon.

Temperatures in southern Ontario this December have been above normal 1:54

Back in the '60s, '70s and early '80s in Toronto, Phillips explains, people had a 65 per cent chance of seeing a white Christmas. Now, it's only 40 per cent.

"The dead of winter is still cold, but the shoulders of it, where Christmas is, is getting warmer," says Phillips. "If we pushed Christmas back a month, there would be much better chances of white Christmases. But we can't do that."

"The majority of people are happy with seeing less snow, but if there's one day of the year where people who hate snow would love it, it's Christmas Day."

About the Author

Justin Li

Senior News Writer

Justin Li is a senior news writer. Prior to joining CBC News, he worked for the Toronto Star and wrote for various magazines in Toronto, where he's always lived.


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