Sledding, snowball fights, snowmen… We all like to think that our childhood Christmases could have been taken from a Christmas card, complete with a nice, thick layer of snow. Nowadays it seems that snow has turned to sleet or rain, making everything more miserable – one meteorologist has started grimly predicting the rise of the “Black Christmas”, with milder temperatures, wetter weather, and no snow. But have we really seen the end of the White Christmas, or are we just seeing our earliest Christmases through rose-tinted glasses?
According to climate science, this isn’t just nostalgia – global warming has meant we’ve seen milder winters which are starting later. Since Christmas is already only at the start of the snowiest period – you’re more likely to get snow from January to March than in December – later winters only make it less likely for there to be snow on the ground come Christmas Day. This is borne out by the statistics – half of the Christmases in the UK from 2001 to 2010 saw no reported snowfall at all, while eight Christmases had snowfall during the period 1971-1980 and nine in 1961-1970. And this relies on the official definition of snowfall – just one snowflake detected – so we can expect that the milder winters have meant a much lighter covering of snow even in the years when some has fallen. In fact, there have only been 4 times in the last 51 years when there’s been “widespread” snowfall.
On the other hand, some sources have indicated that many rural areas are can be as much as 25% more likely to see some snowfall than they were thirty years ago. But, as the blog of Wendy Kohli has pointed out, we should remember that the global population is becoming increasingly urban, with 6.4 billion people living in cities by 2050 as against a mere 750 million in 1950 – and so our focus needs to be more and more on the experience of cities. Although climate change means that some rural areas will see an increase in snow around Christmas, city dwellers will be getting much less – with some reports suggesting London will be 55% less likely to get some snow by 2050. And as more people move to cities, fewer people will be getting to experience a white Christmas. Global warming will only exacerbate this trend already present in this unprecedented movement into cities. And this migration trend is especially present in LDCs – countries already disproportionately affected by global warming.
Global warming offers many challenges, which will require innovative, global solutions as we move into the future. But the prospect of our children missing out on the idyllic childhood Christmases we enjoyed, resplendent with a clean and crisp blanket of snow, brings out the everyday consequences of global warming in a striking way. We should look to our innovators and entrepreneurs for bold solutions to these new challenges – and let’s hope that there’ll still be a White Christmas for future generations to enjoy!