With Christmas fast approaching, one question that’s on many peoples’ minds is: “What are the chances of a White Christmas?” If you live in Florida or northern Minnesota, you probably already know the answer, but in other parts of the country things can be more variable from year to year. In New York City, for example, the odds are about 1 in 4 that there will be snow on the ground on Christmas Day. There is a NOAA web page that, in a glance, clearly depicts the chances of a white (or green) Christmas based on long-term averages.
Even more interesting is this web page that shows you the National Snow Analyses. From here, you can get a wealth of information on everything from the snow depth across the nation,to the average snowpack temperature and the average water equivalent of the snow (did you know that on average, 1-inch of rain equals 10-inches of snow?). As I write these words, it appears that about half of the “lower 48” states are already snow covered.
In Canada, Environment Canada offers a chart of probable white Christmas as well.
Memorable Christmastime Storms
Of course, a big snowstorm that hits right around Christmastime can be a memorable experience.
- December 23-25, 1966. A storm that was notable for depositing heavy snow over a wide area from the southern Plains states to New England. In parts of northwest New Jersey and eastern New York state anywhere from 20 to 29 inches of the white stuff fell. Another intriguing aspect of this storm was the numerous reports of thunderstorms with heavy snow. Because of this, weather annals refer to this 1966 storm as the “Donner and Blitzen Snowstorm.”
- Just three years later, on December 25-28, 1969, another big Christmas storm occurred. This one was a near-miss for the large cities of the northeastern United States as heavy snow turned to rain (and back to snow in many areas). This storm turned out to be one of the heaviest snowstorms on record for eastern and northern New England. In Burlington, Vermont, 30 inches of snow fell!
- If you’re a native New Yorker and are at least 67-years of age, you might remember what happened on the day after Christmas in 1947. Most residents of the City were sleeping off an active Christmas Day when, unbeknownst to them, a light snow began to fall at 3:20 a.m. When people were happily opening their presents on Christmas morning there was no mention of snow in the weather forecasts for the following day either in the newspapers or on radio. But during the predawn hours of December 26, the flakes started to fly. By 7 a.m. there was 2 inches on the ground and by noon there was 11-inches. By 6 p.m., 22.5-inches and by midnight, 25.6-inches! The impact on traffic was staggering. Streets and highways were rendered impassable; at least 10,000-vehicles were abandoned in the snow. Bus and subway lines were paralyzed and airline flights and harbor shipping was brought to a halt.
But one good thing came out of this massive snowfall.
It’s Howdy Doody Time?
Television was in its infancy back then. Television stations — what few that were around — were only broadcasting programs for a few hours a day. As it turned out, on Saturday afternoon, December 27th at 5 p.m., the fledgling NBC Network had scheduled a children’s show called “Puppet Playhouse.” The host of that show was a man, known to radio listeners as “Buffalo Bob” Smith. The Saturday show was scheduled to be only a one-shot deal for the holidays. Many of the people (and children) who were assigned to be on the show couldn’t get to the studio because of the snow. But Bob Smith did get to the studio and for one hour did his best to entertain any kids who were tuned in to watch.
Within days after the broadcast, NBC was inundated with letters and telegrams from parents, thanking them for providing such a wonderful hour of afternoon entertainment for their kids. Television sets were few and far between in those days, but in those few homes and apartment buildings that had TV sets, had hoards of restless kids (who were already pretty tired of the snow themselves) crowded around watching “Buffalo Bob.” That one hour also provided overworked parents with a breather as well. The show was so popular, that NBC hastily rescheduled another hour for the following Saturday.
It’s popularity grew like–like a snowball rolling down a hill. Soon the name of the show (which would go on to last for 13 more years) was changed from “Puppet Playhouse” to the name of the most popular of the show’s characters: Howdy Doody.
And it might never have happened if it weren’t for that big post-Christmas snowstorm!
Merry Christmas to all!