The flakes fall softly from the sky. They settle gently on the houses, streets and trees, covering them with a thick layer of white, while inside the children sit under the brightly colored Christmas tree and unwrap their presents. Again and again her gaze falls on the wild play of snowflakes on the window and the quiet, dark winter landscape, which invites you to run out and build a snowman.
It’s a white Christmas, as it is written in books, as it actually appears in every Christmas film. However, this has little to do with reality. Instead of snow, there was only rain in many places in Germany during the past Christmas holidays. White Christmases from December 24th to 26th are becoming increasingly rare in most regions. That wasn’t surprising, he said German Weather Service (DWD) already declared last year. “Climate change with rising temperatures is gradually driving the romantic white Christmas out of Germany.”
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Snow only every 50 years
Last year, the DWD evaluated data from its climate archive. He compared the periods from 1961 to 1990 and 1991 to 2020 – with the result: the chance of a white Christmas with snow cover on all three days on average in Germany had fallen by 13 percentage points, regionally even by up to 44 percentage points. That corresponds to a percentage decrease of 52 percent for three days with snow at Christmas, the authority had announced. The south of Germany is particularly affected.
“The warmer temperatures mean that the average snow line is increasing,” said DWD spokesman Andreas Friedrich. “This means that precipitation in the lowlands, in the mountainous regions and at lower elevations is falling as rain more and more frequently, and this means that the frequency of white Christmases continues to decrease.”
As the world warms, white Christmases are becoming rarer. Climate models like that of the Alfred Wegener Institute predict that with global warming of two degrees Celsius, there would only be snow every 12 to 20 years for the holidays in north-eastern Germany. With a warming of three degrees Celsius it would be every 20 to 50 years, with four degrees Celsius only every 50 years. If you then want to enjoy snow every Christmas day, you would have to travel to Norway, Russia or the Alps.
“Our children and grandchildren will experience a white Christmas again,” DWD spokesman Friedrich is convinced. “Maybe then only once or twice in their lives and not every ten years like now.”
Lack of snow has many consequences
Mind you, less snow is not just a problem around the Christmas holidays. The winters are generally getting warmer, which means that white winter landscapes are becoming increasingly rare. This has consequences for winter sports, for example. In order to be able to ski, artificial snow must be used on the slopes, which harms the environment. Snow also plays a role in the water balance: it replenishes the groundwater reserves, which in turn are essential for the drinking water supply and agriculture.
And snow is also an important factor for the climate. Because the white blankets of snow have a high albedo, i.e. high reflectivity. This means that incoming sunlight is reflected by the snow, which ensures that the ground does not heat up as quickly. The smaller the snow cover, the lower the cooling effect.
DWD expects a mild winter
Will there be snow at Christmas this year? Reliable forecasts are not yet possible, said Friedrich. At the earliest ten days before the holidays, it would be possible to estimate whether it would snow and whether the snow would remain. The reason for this is the “chaotic system that represents our atmosphere”. “We cannot predict the weather exactly,” the meteorologist made clear. “These are always approximate equations. And the longer you calculate and model, the more errors are possible.”
So far, the DWD is expecting a comparatively mild winter again: According to the first model calculations, the average temperature could reach at least two degrees Celsius. This would make the winter one of the 33 percent of the mildest winters in the reference period from 1991 to 2020 authority communicated in early November. This should be beneficial for the energy crisis and rising heating costs, but not for ecosystems.
However, there is always a certain variability in the climate. It is subject to annual fluctuations, said Friedrich. This means: the hope that there will be snow at Christmas this year does not have to be completely buried.