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Despite Southwest blizzard, hope of white Christmas fades for much of US

After two snowy years where over half the country woke up to snow on Christmas, this yuletide is expected to be far less white for much of the US – even with a blizzard in the Southwest.

By Staff writer / December 19, 2011

This NOAA satellite image taken Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at 12:45 a.m. EST shows cloud cover over the Southwest as low pressure over the region kicks up a mix of rain, freezing rain, and light snow through the night and early morning. Moist flow associated with this system holds clouds cover over Texas and Oklahoma with a few areas of light to moderate rain showers. Drier weather conditions persist over the rest of the East.

WEATHER UNDERGROUND/AP

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If you live in Marquette, Mich., Presque Isle, Maine, or Lake City, Colo., your chances of having a white Christmas are, as usual, pretty high. And thanks to a massive blizzard lumbering through the West, the Texas Panhandle, big swaths of New Mexico, and the Kansas prairies are also looking at up to a foot of the white stuff just in time for Christmas morn.

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Most of the rest of the country? Let's put it this way: Santa might have to change his sled runners out for tires.

After two straight years of "Snowpocalypse" storms and 50-percent-plus overall snow cover across the US by Christmas, frozen precipitation is considerably down this year, with only about 20.9 percent of the country currently with at least an inch on the ground – the National Weather Service's requirement for a "White Christmas" designation. Overall US snowfall for the month of December is down by 73 percent from last year, or 55 percent below average. The overall snow cover is the lowest since 2003, when the country had 21.2 percent snow coverage by Dec. 19.

And while a dangerous blizzard began on Monday to snarl traffic along I-40 in the West, the system isn't expected to bring much snow eastward.

The culprit: The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a permanent atmospheric feature that jogs and spins over Greenland. The last two years – which brought snow and frost even to Florida – the NAO helped push large troughs of frigid Canadian air across the East and deep into the South, resulting in a cavalcade of record-breaking snows that blanketed major cities like Washington, D.C., and New York City and turned Atlanta into a block of ice.

In contrast, average temperatures this year are up across the East, with many areas recording five-year temperature highs. Meanwhile, desert border towns like Deming, N.M., have already seen impressive snow events.

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