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White Christmas? Dream on The treetops may glisten Sunday with a trace of snow but the big day is unlikely to be just like the ones you used to know

Get ready to rewrite the record book. Western New York may be setting a record for the lowest pre-Christmas snowfall in more than 140 years.

But that doesn't mean that all we can do is dream about a white Christmas.

Chances still are decent that kids of all ages could wake up to see snow -- a little bit of it, anyway -- on the ground Christmas morning.

"I think they're just a hair better than 50-50," National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Niziol said Tuesday of the chances for a white Christmas. "We're looking at a winter weather system that possibly will give a glancing shot of measurable snow for Christmas Eve into Christmas Day."

A white Christmas in Buffalo isn't the slam-dunk most people would think.

Historically, the chance of having an inch or more on the ground is about 57 percent, and that figure goes up into the high 60s for having at least a trace of snow, Niziol said.

Meteorologists seem more excited about the record that could be set later this week.

So far, the National Weather Service has recorded 3.0 inches of snow this season at its Cheektowaga office.

"If we do not have any measurable snowfall through Christmas Eve -- and that's what we're looking for -- that would be the lowest amount we've ever had before Christmas," said Niziol, the local office's meteorologist in charge.

And those records go back to 1870.

The lowest previous totals are 3.1 inches in 1998, 3.3 in 1931, 3.6 in 1896 and 4.3 in 1918.

Ah, the winter of 1918. We all remember it well.

So what does the light, early-season snowfall mean for the rest of the winter?

Not much.

Or, as Niziol put it, the mild early winter is not considered a "statistically significant predictor" of how severe the winter will be.

Some think that a relatively warm Lake Erie at this time of year translates into a harsh season of lake-effect snowstorms.

The lake is wide open now, with a temperature of 40 degrees, a bit above normal for this time of year.

A harsh burst of cold air could lead to a rough stretch of lake-effect snow, but because Lake Erie is relatively shallow, that burst of cold air could help the lake freeze pretty quickly.

Niziol was asked how he views the possibility of setting a record for the lowest pre-Christmas snowfall.

"Certainly, it's going to be unprecedented," he said. "It's certainly well out of the normal conditions we would expect. But our climate is made up of extremes in many cases, and we're hitting one of those extremes this year."

Niziol doesn't believe Western New Yorkers have to worry about our national image changing -- the one that equates Buffalo and snow. A string of days in the 80s in December wouldn't change that, he suggested.

"We have to preach the gospel that snow is good for those who like it," he said.

A couple of weeks ago, Niziol was in Disney World, where he tried a little experiment. While he was standing in line, one woman asked him where he lives.

Near Niagara Falls, he replied, leading the woman to marvel at the beautiful area and tell him how lucky he is.

Later, another woman asked him the same question, and he said near Buffalo.

"Oh my god," she said. "How can you live there, with all of that snow?"

email: gwarner@buffnews.com

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