As a decorator at Dave’s Christmas Wonderland in Cheektowaga, Bonnie Killeleagh spends much of the holiday season thinking about how Christmasy things look.
So when it comes to how she feels about the lyrics of the most famous Christmas song, she has a predictable answer.
“I’m hoping,” she said this week. “You’d like to have it there – a little bit.”
In Western New York, we don't have to spend a lot of time hoping or praying or, yes, dreaming of a White Christmas. Most of the time, we get one.
(Spoiler alert: This year could be an exception.)
The National Weather Service defines a white Christmas as 1 inch of snow on the ground on Dec. 25 and over the last half-century, it’s happened 31 times for a WNYWCR (Western New York White Christmas Rate) of 62 percent. There have been six white Christmases in the last decade, and 14 of them since 1998.
Last year’s 7 inches on the ground was the most in a dozen years before that.
But the weather service’s “snow on the ground” definition of a White Christmas might not be yours. (Nine of the years that qualify as "white" had only 1 inch on the ground.) Maybe to you the term means a snowy Christmas Day.
We get those, too.
Weather service data shows measurable snow fell on Christmas Day over 14 of the 16 years between 1988 and 2003. Since then, it’s happened only three times in 14 years.
In the earlier streak, there were some doozies too. Call them “the snows of Christmas past.”
— NOAA NCEI Climate (@NOAANCEIclimate) December 18, 2018
The 8.4 inches that fell Christmas 2002 was the snowiest Christmas on record, dating to 1871, the weather service said. There was 8.2 inches that fell in 2003, 7.1 inches in 1998 and 6.2 inches in 1995.
But a snowy Christmas has been a rarity for a while now. Since 2003, the highest Christmas Day snowfall in Buffalo came with last year’s measly 2.2 inches.
One of the more memorable White Christmas events came in 2001, a winter odyssey that brought a record-shattering 2 feet of snow to Buffalo from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day.
But all of those snowy memories don’t mean much when it comes to predicting whether the next Dec. 25 will look like a Currier & Ives print.
“Past probabilities don’t tell you much about how the atmosphere is going to be set up this year,” wrote Don Paul, WKBW-TV’s meteorologist, in a recent post for The Buffalo News. “Obviously, when we get closer to the holiday, we can bracket in the target more effectively.”
If you want to increase your chances, head to Ellicottville where in some places, they aren't beholden to weather whims.
“Just in case, we’ve been making snow at every opportunity since mid-November to be ready for the busy Christmas week,” said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley’s marketing director.
They remember Christmas 2017 warmly at Holiday Valley, when the snow-making equipment also got a holiday.
“Last year, Santa brought up 22 inches of snow,” Eshbaugh said. “It was a white Christmas indeed!”
Of course, not everyone's hoping for the perfect snowy scene out of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie set. Call Cheektowaga Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner a Grinch if you must, but he's got his reasons.
"We have to watch our budget," Wegner said. "We don't want any snow all winter. That would be perfect for us."
Wegner might get his wish this year, at least in the short term. Forecasters at the National Weather Service say a surefire white Christmas by its definition appears unlikely this year for metro Buffalo.
"That's going to be kind of tough," Judy Levan, the meteorologist-in-charge at the weather service office in Buffalo, told The Buffalo News Friday morning. "I'm sorry I don't have better news."
Levan said a couple passing clipper systems overnight Sunday and later on Christmas could help to cover the ground with some white with some weak snow showers and some lake-enhanced snow. South of metro Buffalo, there are much better chances for accumulating snow.
"It's certainly not going to be significant," Levan said. "No big snowstorms."
Would you sign up for a lake-effect snow band now? How about settling for a fraction of an inch? A few snowflakes in the air on Christmas?
“Just a little for Christmas, then it can go away,” Killeleagh, of Dave’s Christmas Wonderland, said. “I think that’s what most people would say.”