The family sat down the other night to watch the 1954 movie musical White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. The story of two war buddies who fall for two sisters is a seasonal favorite and features the famous song of the same name. Laughter and cringing always unfurls as the song “Snow. Snow. Snow.” is sung. The song “Sisters” prompts my three musically inclined daughters to join in.
Crosby’s voice certainly had become synonymous with Christmas music. His recordings of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” propelled the music to Christmas classic status. In 1962, Noel Regney and his wife Gloria Shayne Baker composed a Christmas song with the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold War as a backdrop. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was released shortly after Thanksgiving in 1962 by the Harry Simeone Chorale, the group that had previously launched “The Little Drummer Boy.”
But his recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” became the biggest hit of his career. Bing introduced the song first on a Christmas Day radio broadcast in 1941. The song then appeared in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn. The song hit the charts for the next Christmas season on October 3, 1942 and rose to No. 1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for 11 more weeks. A perennial holiday favorite, the song was repeatedly re-released by Decca Records, charting another 16 times. It topped the charts again in 1945 and a third time in 1947. The song remains the best-selling single of all time.
Last week a nor’easter slammed New England with a wintry mix of weather, providing a soaking, sleeting and snowing to many communities. With Christmas less than a week away and Bing Crosby’s songs on the playlist, what are the chances of a white Christmas coming to Southern Indiana?
In meteorological terms, a white Christmas occurs when there is at least 1 inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morning. It doesn’t have to be snowing on the 25th for the snow to count. According to weather.com, the current forecasts present the best chances for a 1-inch blanket of snow to occur in the Mountain West, the areas near the Canadian border and sections of the interior Northeast.
Over the past 40 years the areas that have over a 50% chance of having a white Christmas are areas north of Indianapolis. If a fairly straight line is drawn from Indianapolis through Kansas City to Denver and then San Francisco, only Denver is touched by chances over 50%.
The last two years are strong examples of just how limited the chances are for a white Christmas in the United States. Christmas 2019 had the second-lowest snow cover in the lower 48 states in the last 10 years. Only about 28% pf the area was covered with snow. Two years ago, Christmas 2018, the totals were even lower with only 24.6% of the Lower 48 having at least an inch of the white stuff.
On the average, about 38% of the Lower 48 states have snow on the ground on Christmas. The percentages vary from year to year. The lowest has been 21% and the greatest was 63% in the year 2009.
A white Christmas in the Midwest is about as likely as finding a Lysol product on Walmart shelves last April. The top snow depth on record for Christmas morning in the Midwest is 25 inches (in the year 2000) in the city of Milwaukee. The record in Chicago is 17 inches way back in 1951. The last white Christmas for both cities was 2017. The statistics are from the National Weather Service.
What about the big three cities in our area — Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville? What are our records and our chances? Indianapolis has a 27% chance of having a white Christmas each year. There have been 34 white Christmases in the Indiana capitol since 1898. The last one was in 2017 when just 1 inch covered the ground.
Louisville only has a 14% chance for an inch of snow on the ground on Christmas. It has only happened 17 times since the year 1900. The last time there was an official white Christmas in Louisville was 2010 when an inch of snow was on the ground.
So where does Cincinnati fall between the two? Most people have a sense that Cincinnati snowfalls are a little worse than Louisville and a little better than Indianapolis. In fact, Cincinnati has only had 16 white Christmases since 1900. The last time greater Cincinnati saw a white Christmas was 2010 when 4 inches of snow was covering the ground.
Is a white Christmas just a northern thing? In 1982 the country band Alabama celebrated the holiday with the release of the song, “Christmas in Dixie.” Still popular today, the song makes reference to Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte and Fort Payne, Alabama — the group’s hometown. Has there ever been a white Christmas in Dixie?
Memphis has a 4% chance of a white Christmas, with four occurring since 1900 and 2 full inches sitting on the ground on Christmas 2004. Atlanta saw its first white Christmas since 1880 in 2012 with 1-3 inches settling upon the ground. Charlotte has only had a white Christmas four times in 142 years of record-keeping in the city. The most recent was in 2010.
‘Christmas in Dixie, it’s snowing in the pines. Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight. And from Fort Payne, Alabama …” There has never been a white Christmas. One year in Birmingham, 5 and 1/2 inches fell on Dec. 22, 1929. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, there was still over 2 inches on the ground even at 7 p.m. But the temperature continued to climb and by Christmas day, there was not even a trace still remaining.
From the Catbird Seat, our wishes desire the happiest of holidays for everyone. May your days be merry and bright … and may all your Christmases be white.