Dreaming of a White Christmas? Climate Change May Make That Dream Impossible
By Jane Marsh
Picture a peaceful snowfall outside your living room window — families building snowmen and children laughing while sledding against a white, crisp landscape. It’s moments like these when you remember what the holidays are really about.
For many, few things bring about holiday cheer like a white Christmas. Yet, the threat of climate change might ruin everyone’s favorite seasonal pastimes. Snow requires certain cold conditions to form. With global warming modifying atmospheric temperatures, it could make it impossible.
Let’s explore the science of snow, how climate change impacts white Christmases, and what you can do to have an eco-friendly, energy-efficient holiday.
The Perfect Recipe for Snow
Snow formation requires atmospheric temperatures of 0 degrees Celcius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, ground temperatures must be at or below freezing for snow to reach the Earth’s surface — although it can still make it down with temperatures under 41 degrees F.
Snow only forms when there is moisture in the air — that’s why cold, dry regions may not receive as much snowfall, if ever. For instance, despite being permanently frozen and barren, the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica rarely see precipitation.
The Dry Valleys perplexed scientists for decades. However, they’ve since learned the area is continuously below-freezing temperatures with low humidity. Additionally, strong winds push moisture out of the air, making snow formation unlikely.
Climate Change: The Ruiner of White Christmases
The changing climate has warmed the planet by 1.1 degrees C since the Industrial Revolution. Seeing as the effects of global warming continue to rise, future white Christmases become less likely.
Scandinavia and alpine regions may continue delivering white Christmases, but the weather is uncertain. According to one study, researchers predict snow days will decrease by 48.5% in the Alps by 2100 if humanity can’t control greenhouse emissions.
More recently, weather experts shared their predictions for an east-to-west jet stream with moisture across the U.S. over the holidays. However, the nation’s temperatures will rise 10-20 degrees F above average — particularly in the Midwest — during the last two weeks of 2023, including Christmas.
This year was also unusually arid as the U.S. endured the effects of El Niño. Despite rainfall from late September to mid-October, there were only 0.004 inches of precipitation in November, half of which was snow.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, generally has a white Christmas 74% of the time during a typical winter weather pattern. However, El Niño doubles the odds of no snow. In the future, this warming will continue to pose significant problems for holiday snowfalls.
5 Tips for an Eco-Friendly Christmas
One person may not stop climate change from stealing white Christmases, but you can still change your behaviors to be more environmentally friendly during the season. Here are five tips for a sustainable Christmas.
Recycle Your Christmas Tree
As much as you dread it, the day will come when you must get rid of your Christmas tree. While you can wrap it up and set it out for waste management, giving it a second life is far more eco-friendly.
Compost it, donate it to a conversation organization, create woodworking projects with the stump or make pine-scented candles and soaps using the needles. You can even use it for landscaping your garden beds in the spring. It could cost you over $100 to buy bags of mulch, but you can rent a woodchipper and create mulch yourself instead.
Wrap Presents in Sustainable Paper
Gift wrappings might be made of paper but are usually not recyclable. Wrapping paper often comes coasted with plastic and glitter, which must go straight to the landfill.
There are several wrapping alternatives for more sustainable gift-giving. For starters, packing paper might look plain, but you can spruce it up with a pine needle and jute. Giving gifts in cloth drawstring bags or reusable bags is another option.
Gift an Experience
Presents equate to an accumulation of stuff — and do you really need more? While opening a present is fun, gifting an experience instead is often more memorable.
Fulfill your brother’s dream of skydiving or send your parents on an expenses-paid weekend getaway. Someone you know could enjoy a MasterClass subscription in cooking or may want to see their favorite band in concert. There are endless possibilities for experiential gifts.
String LED Lights
With so many Christmas decorations up, you can expect your energy bills to be higher than usual. Lower your energy consumption by using light-emitting diode (LED) string lights on your house and Christmas tree.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75% less energy than traditional bulbs and last 25 times longer. Environmentally, the less energy consumed through Christmas lights, the less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
Use a Programmable or Smart Thermostat
If you’re hosting Christmas this year, you’ll want to ensure a comfortable environment for everyone. Installing a programmable thermostat will keep indoor temperatures at the right degree and help you save nearly 10% on heating and cooling costs.
However, homeowners can access smartphone control, a preferred operating schedule and geofencing capabilities by upgrading to a smart thermostat. Many devices even sense room occupancy and will adjust the settings accordingly.
Future White Christmases Rest in Humanity’s Hands
The only way to save white Christmases is to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and lower global temperatures. The warmer we make the atmosphere, the less conducive conditions for snow to form. Fortunately, small, collective behavioral changes can make a significant difference in limiting climate change.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of