A white Christmas may be nothing more than a dream for many this week

Mark Puleo

In the final day of Santa's preparation for this week's gift-giving adventure around the country, there may not be many locations that can greet him and his sleigh with snow.

AccuWeather meteorologists are looking ahead to this week's holiday and forecasting which lucky Americans may wake up to a snow-blanketed Christmas morning. Unfortunately, many residents may find their dreams of a white Christmas to be nothing more than a fantasy.

While forecasters say it's possible that part of the northern tier of the country and areas of the Southwest may get some snowfall in the days leading up to Christmas, a much smaller portion of the country can expect that snow to linger on the ground through Christmas morning.

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The Christmas tree and angels at Rockefeller Center are seen covered in snow one day after their lighting in New York, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2002. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)

Along with the higher-elevation locations in the West, some portions of the northern Plains, Upper Midwest and interior Northeast are likely the only places that can expect to wake up to snow on Christmas morning.

In order to reach the qualification for an official white Christmas, a city or town must have at least an inch of snow on the ground at some point on Christmas morning, according to the standard set by the National Weather Service.

The combination of snow accumulation and freezing temperatures in areas such as the Rockies, Cascades and Sierra Nevada means that residents in higher-elevation locations in the West can expect their snow to linger into Christmas.

A pre-Christmas storm may also provide assurance to snow-hoppers in the mountains of the interior Southwest, including in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, that at least an inch is around to greet Rudolph and company.

Those living in lower-elevation towns in the West will see precipitation before Christmas, but AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said it's more likely to fall as rain rather than snow.

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"While Salt Lake City has the potential for a bit of snow, marginal temperatures may allow rain to be mixed in, which would greatly limit any accumulation," Sosnowski said.

"Its possible the Benches east of Salt Lake City and the Foothills and Rockies west of Denver pick up a few inches of snow," he added.

Elsewhere in the country, many snow-dreaming residents in major cities may awake disappointed.

"The white Christmas coverage this year will be below normal, significantly below what it is now," AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers said. The recent data tell that story as seen in the graphic below, which shows Christmas snow coverage in the U.S. over the last 16 years. Christmas 2019 could join 2003, 2005 and 2018 as recent years that have disappointed many American children on Christmas morning.

U.S. snow coverage on Christmas Day 2003-2018
Data from NOAA's NOHRSC shows the percentage of the contiguous U.S. covered by snow on Christmas Day.

As of Dec. 22, less than a week away from Christmas, a band from central Illinois to western Ohio, portions of northern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and northern New England all possess that necessary inch of snow cover. Unfortunately, for many residents in those regions, that inch of snow may not last when sleigh bells come ringing.

"It appears a white Christmas is looking unlikely for many major cities in the Midwest, such as Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, with a surge of warmth expected in the days leading up to the holiday," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bill Deger said. "For much of the central and southern Plains to the Southeast and East Coast, it's looking rather warm than white, with sunshine and temperatures above normal for the day."

While an Alberta clipper storm may bring snow showers to part of southeastern Canada, no appreciable snow is likely to dip very far south into the Northeast on Christmas Eve. Instead these northern tier areas in the Northeast will have to rely on snow from prior storms to qualify for a white Christmas come Wednesday morning.

Motion graphic showing snow depth across the U.S. on Christmas from 2003 to 2018. (AccuWeather / NOAA)

Millions of Americans will have no snowflakes to speak of on Christmas morning, Myers said.

Hope is not lost for all, however.

The Upper Midwest also won't receive Christmas Eve snowfall, but just enough cold air will keep the already-fallen snow from melting before Santa's visit to the North Central states.

"In the Upper Midwest, the Dakotas, Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and northern and central New England will have a white Christmas," Myers said. "There's more snow in the Upper Midwest this year than there was last year."

Additional reporting by Jesse Ferrell.