Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?

Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?
A decorated Christmas tree stands on a farmer's land in Unterjoch, Bavaria. This sight may become rarer in the future due to climate change. Photo: DPA
For most people, a white Christmas is the ideal. However, snow is quite rare during the holidays in most of Germany. Some say it used to snow more often, but is that really true?

Presents piled under the Christmas tree, piping-hot holiday treats, plus a snow-covered landscape: that's how many imagine the perfect Christmas holidays.

But this combination is relatively rare for Germans. Was a white Christmas more common in the past? Let's look at the facts.

CLAIM: Snow during Christmas was more common in previous years. 

FACT: Not true.The German Weather Service, or Der Deutsche Wetterdienst (DWD), has strict requirements for a “White Christmas”: there must be at least one centimeter of snow on the ground at 7 am on all festive days (Christmas Eve as well as December 25th and 26th).

READ ALSO: Why Germany is among top three countries affected by climate change

“The event was always relatively rare,” explains DWD meteorologist Andreas Friedrich. Comprehensive weather data has been collected in all of Germany since 1961, but certain regions have data stretching back to 1881, according to DWD.

In 2010 there was a blanket of snow covering almost all of Germany, and in the 1960s, there were several years in a row where many places in Germany had a white Christmas. However, no general trend can be derived from these individual years, Friedrich says.

Nonetheless, the winters definitely used to be colder. According to DWD data, Germany’s December has warmed by 1.7C since 1881. In December 2018, the average temperature throughout Germany was 3.9C.

READ ALSO: Snow, ice and fog hit Germany as winter arrives

“Every children’s book and every advertisement depicts a white Christmas rather than a ‘green Christmas,’ which would be much more realistic in Germany,” says Professor Joachim Curtius from the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main.

People tend to idealize the rare white Christmas rather than celebrations in bad weather and rain.

A Christmas tree is reflected in a puddle at a Christmas Market in Frankfurt am Main. This may be a sight Germans see more often than snow-covered roofs. Photo: DPA

CLAIM: White Christmases vary depending on the German region.

FACT: That's true. There are several factors that play into the likelihood of this phenomenon. Altitude, for example, and for some regions, the distance to the ocean also plays a role. On the Heligoland islands the probability for snowy holidays is two percent, according to DWD.

And in Berlin and Brandenburg, the probability of a white Christmas is higher than in Lower Saxony.

CLAIM: There are places in Germany where snow is guaranteed on Christmas

FACT: That's right. “There has been a white Christmas on the Zugspitze since the beginning of the weather record there in 1880,” says Friedrich. At lower altitudes, the probability sinks.

CLAIM: The snow probability is highest in December.

FACT: Not true. The coldest times of the year are usually from late January to early February, says DWD expert Friedrich. “If you could push Christmas to these months, it would be easier to experience a white Christmas.”

According to DWD figures, it sometimes snows in mid-December, but shortly before Christmas mild Atlantic air often flows from the west to Germany.

“The notorious Christmas Thaw is coming,” writes the DWD. The warm air typically lifts any snow cover.

According to Professor Curtius, the dream of white Christmas will continue to be rare: “In the course of climate change, at least for the next decades, the likelihood of a white Christmas will continue to decline because temperatures will fall below zero less and less often.”

 

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