Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Philadelphia, January 1996
The first real snow storm of the year is headed towards the northeastern United States this weekend. It is expected to dump anywhere from six inches up to a foot and a half of the white stuff in the 'I-95' corridor between New York and Boston.

That means it will be sliding hundreds of miles to the north of us here in Philly, so we likely dodge this first blast of winter. Still, temperatures have been slowly and surely dropping, and we have had a lot of rain over the past week or so.

With Christmas now less than a week away, all of these factors start to make one think of the possibility of that old Bing Crosby cliche, a 'White Christmas' just like the ones I used to know.

But how many of us here in Philadelphia actually can remember a single snowy Christmas, let alone a few of them close together which would make it a clear association with the holiday?

The answer is as mixed as the weather this time of year. Personally, I do have a clear recollection of a big snow at some point in my early childhood. I remember folks making a big deal of it, and it being an exciting thing for me as a little tot.

Checking back into the National Weather Service records all the way to 1951, my memory is proven correct. There has only been one major snow storm at Christmas time in that period covering over a half century, the Christmas storm of 1966, when I was five years old.

That Christmas eve it began snowing, and it did not stop until just over a foot of the powder was on the ground by the time us kiddies woke up around 7am. What glory to look out the window upon! But something tells me that the grown-ups weren't as happy as I was.


This big storm was the culmination of a period that had been building up. In both 1959 and 1960, Philly awoke to an inch of snow on the ground on Christmas morn, and the year that I was born, 1961, it was two inches. So you can see that back in those days it was not so unusual to have a white Christmas.

As late as 1969, over four inches fell in the early morning hours of Christmas day, but the conditions rapidly changed and a quick warm front turned things to rain and washed away the snow by the wakening hours. But for the most part since that 1966 big one there has not been much Christmas snow at all here in the City of Brotherly Love. In fact, there was pretty much nothing at all for three decades, until Christmas 1998 found us waking up to an inch waiting to be shoveled.

In 2002 there was again an inch in some places around the area. Global warming alarmists would use this as more fuel to add to their fire, but to them I simply say "Bah, humbug!" They conveniently leave out the cold days during late spring and winter. I remember shivering my butt off on a windy, cold late May game at Citizens Bank Park with a blanket wrapped around my wife and I thinking "global warming my ass!"

But enough anti-green talk, this is about Christmas snow. It appears that having a true 'White Christmas' is just not the norm around these parts. For anyone who is my age or older, we have that 1966 storm ingrained in our memories forever, and it has the picture painted vividly in our minds. But for anyone even a little younger who has spent their life here in the Philly area, and certainly anyone born since, there really is no such mental picture.

So the New York and New England areas will send back news pictures of snow this weekend, a few NFL games will be highlighted by players fighting through the conditions, and boy will it be pretty to watch here in the warmth of our homes. Large areas across the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Plains, and the Great Lakes regions of the U.S. have already received their first snows this season.

Undoubtedly at some point over this winter, we will get our own taste of winter weather. But the odds of that snow coming five days from now is very long indeed. Still, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Just not like the one that I got to know back in 1966.

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