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Green Christmas Unseasonably warm weather puts a chill on a season synonymous with snow

Wish your Christmas may be white, but understand the chance is slight.

Over the past few weeks, unseasonably warm temperatures have meant no snow to throw, no parkas in public and more plain rain.

As more days go by with more of the same, the warm weather seems even harder to explain. In Buffalo, white Christmases reign.

During the last 30 years, the National Weather Service here has recorded only five times when no snow touched the ground on Christmas Day. The last snow-free Christmas dates back nine years to 1997, when it was rainy and gray.

That's why many local residents equate the holiday season with snow -- inches to sled on, shovel and throw.

"It definitely has been too warm," said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert. "Overall, we're running about five degrees above normal for the month of December."

In 2002 and 2003, more than 8 inches of Christmas snow fell with ease. In 2004, 6 inches covered the ground and dusted the trees. In 2005, the flakes were a tease because temperatures climbed to 41 degrees.

And who can forget the Christmas week storm of 2001, which left behind seven feet of snow when it was done?

Understandably, the prospect that Christmas might not be white this year troubles some who need snowflakes to bolster their holiday cheer.

"My mom didn't even put up a tree this year," said Buffalo resident Iana Spann, 15. "She just doesn't feel the Christmas spirit. It would be so sad if we didn't have snow on Christmas."

Her friend, 16-year-old Timothy Rhodes, complained so much about the un-Christmaslike weather that his mom warned him it might never snow unless he stopped griping about it.

"I think there should be snow, especially because it's Buffalo," he said.

Many shoppers say they've been decorating late and delaying their holiday gift buying to date.

A recent afternoon visit to a West Side Christmas tree lot featured plenty of trees, but few customers.

The lot owners normally sell about 10 trees a day.

"These days, it's five or six," Michael Pinelli said. "People see the weather and no one is rushing to do anything."

That no-hurry attitude has far-reaching effects. Without the Currier and Ives landscape, many charities have found themselves in bad shape.

Area toy drives have reported an alarming shortfall. Even the Salvation Army is $40,000 behind in its red-kettle fundraising compared with last year's haul.

The warmer weather, however, has been great for volunteers, said George Polarek, executive director of the Salvation Army of Buffalo, and he has no fears about the agency's ability to meet its $500,000 goal.

But he admitted people tend to withhold when the weather isn't very cold.

"Sometimes, people will give a little more because they think in the cold weather the people ringing the bell at the kettles are suffering," Polarek said.

Gardeners, meanwhile, look forward to having the cold, white winter resume. Master gardener Lyn Chimera said the warmth has sent primroses, forsythias and spring bulbs into premature bloom.

But not everyone is unhappy with the warmer, dry days. In fact, many gift hunters and shopkeepers offer nothing but praise.

A number of shoppers said they've found the weather has made it easier for them to get around.

"I like it like this," said downtown resident Helia Laftav.

East Aurora resident Tracy Gavin said she thought snow should be reserved only for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

She and Kenmore resident Dan Verrico said the storefront shops seem to do better business this way. People are more willing to leave home, extend their shopping excursions in retail districts and roam.

Gavin and Verrico -- both toy suppliers -- said shop owners they've spoken with have been raving about how great business has been.

But Verrico said he wouldn't mind if a little snow set in. It's Christmas time, after all.

"Personally, I'd like the snowfall," he said. "Put me in the 'for snow' column."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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Remembering Christmases past

Looking at the extremes for the holiday

*Hottest Christmas: 64 degrees in 1982

*Coldest Christmas: Two years earlier in 1980, high of 16, low of -10

*Whitest Christmas: A tie between 2001 when snow was 18 inches deep by Christmas Day and 82 inches deep by the end of Christmas week, warranting a state-ofemergency declaration; and 2002 when more than eight inches of snow fell in a single day

*Wettest Christmas: 1978 when 1.2 inches of rain fell, flooding some parts of Western New York Source: National Weather Service

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