“There’s a chance of snow in the weather models, but there’s also a lot of wind”: A white Christmas, or rather a stormy Christmas? | Science and the planet

Every year many people wish for a white Christmas. Thanks to some weather models, they are getting a glimmer of hope in 2023. Because there is a chance of snow, but also of stormy weather. How often does this white Christmas happen in our country? What do weather models predict for Christmas and New Year? Where can you expect snow on Christmas? Weather analyst Nicholas Rose explains this new weather forecast. “Right now, we basically see the chance of a lot of wind taking precedence in the weather models and that’s not entirely unexpected.”

When do we talk about a white Christmas? How often does this happen in Belgium?

As the weather year approaches its end, we see the chances of winter rain increasing. December is a month par excellence where snow can lead to a magical moment. We officially talk about a white Christmas when a closed snow cover of at least 1cm is measured at Oakley on 25 December. As a result, the chance of a white Christmas is higher in Belgium than in the Netherlands, where this should be the case on December 25 and 26.

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The last white Christmas in Belgium was in 2010 © Photos

White Christmas is very exceptional in the Benelux countries. We have to go back to 2009 and 2010 to celebrate white Christmas in Belgium. We can conclude from statistics that a white Christmas in Belgium occurs on average every 11 years.

What determines whether we have a chance at a white Christmas this year?

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So we have to look at the polar vortex. This strong area of ​​low pressure is located in the Arctic and traps cold air there. However, if there is massive warming in the stratosphere, it could weaken, causing cold air to escape south and cause a cold snap in our region.

Unfortunately, the recent signs are rather negative. Weather models are backtracking on this astonishing warming in the stratosphere. That would be bad news for winter fans. They often hope for this incredible warming until wintry weather occurs later in the winter.

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The polar vortex (PV) in the atmosphere is often a strongly enclosed air circulation with a lot of cold trapped.  If there is a sudden rise in stratospheric temperature, this cold could spread across the Northern Hemisphere.
The polar vortex (PV) in the atmosphere is often a strongly enclosed air circulation with a lot of cold trapped. If there is a sudden rise in stratospheric temperature, this cold could spread across the Northern Hemisphere. © meteocyl.fr

What do weather models say about Christmas?

As we approach Christmas 2023, we will see a very large portion of the polar vortex heading towards Scandinavia. This is accompanied by a strong gradient. The difference between high and low pressure brings the isobar lines closer together. This is an indication to the meteorologist that the chance of strong winds is increasing sharply.

In the period between 20 and 24 December, we must take into account very turbulent weather and the necessary rain coming from the Atlantic Ocean.

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A US weather model calculates the field of strong winds in the run-up to Christmas.  This can cause strong wind gusts.
A US weather model calculates the field of strong winds in the run-up to Christmas. This can cause strong wind gusts. © Wackcharts

But we can’t write off Christmas snow completely yet. Because there is still a chance for a winter scenario. When the polar vortex can penetrate deep into Europe, the air flow becomes northwesterly and you get a supply of polar air to marine polar air. This gradually cools the upper air, which, combined with the rather warm North Sea, brings heavy rain (snow).

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It cannot be ruled out that these showers will be accompanied by winter rains in the period leading up to Christmas. American and European weather models regularly indicate this scenario, with the possibility of snowfall, especially in the Ardennes region. Sometimes some snow appears below 200 metres, but we have to be very careful with this in the long run.

Where can you experience a white Christmas in Europe?

In the lead up to the Christmas holidays, many people are gearing up for a carefree Christmas break with winter sports options. In the Alps we can expect a lot of snow with northwesterly air flow. French, Swiss and Austrian slopes in particular can expect widespread snowfall. It appears that the southern regions of the Alps benefit less from these amounts of snow

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When the winds come from the northwest before Christmas 2023, the chance of snowfall increases in large areas.  The northern side of the Alps may be in the firing line of a veritable snow dump.
When the winds come from the northwest before Christmas 2023, the chance of snowfall increases in large areas. The northern side of the Alps may be in the firing line of a veritable snow dump. © Wackcharts

Do we know anything about the weather on New Year’s?

As we look further into the term, the unreliability of weather models increases dramatically. We currently see no strong signs of King Winter expanding into Western Europe. The Atlantic Ocean looks quite dominant, and other factors are not immediately favorable for the rest of the month. Winter weather chances may increase in January. The European weather model comes with pulses of high pressure in the Atlantic Ocean and cold air northeast of the lowlands. Then a touch of winter weather is never far away.

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Megan Vasquez

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