Snow Hypothesis for the Holidays

Eneli Toodu
Dec 23, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo Credit: Elen Toodu

In the last two years, we applied Planet OS data sets to visualize the snow conditions before Christmas. This year, we decided to take a look into snow conditions again to find out whether or not we will have a snow-filled holiday season. For this analysis, we used a high-quality snow cover dataset and the Planet OS API.

Each year before the holiday season, snow is the main conversation topic among people in the Northern regions as they wonder whether there will be a snowy-white holiday season. But, it’s not only the people who eagerly anticipate snow during the holidays — seasonal snow is a very integral part of our planet’s climate system. It helps both regulate the temperature of the Earth’s surface and maintain a healthy energy balance. Additionally, water from snowmelt is crucial for replenishing rivers and reservoirs across the world. Snow can even affect the arrival of the summer monsoon season and influence how long it will last.

As the holiday season has now begun, we will once again apply our snow-related datasets and forecast the upcoming snow cover. This week, we used a high-quality snow cover dataset from the Planet OS Datahub to visualize the snow conditions.

Modis/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global

The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) satellite-retrieved snow cover dataset provides daily observational data. It reports the percentage of snow-covered land in 0.05° (approx. 5 km) resolution Climate Modeling Grid cells. The percentages are computed from snow cover observations in the MODIS/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global 500m Grid dataset. The dataset also provides cloud cover percentages.

The main variable in my analysis regarding snow cover for December 18th in the Northern Hemisphere is Daily snow extent. As MODIS uses visible light from the Earth, the data is only collected during the daytime. Below, you will find the highlights from the analysis.

Snow Cover on 2017, 2018 and 2019 a few days before Christmas
  • In Canada, snow extent in most of the areas seems to be similar as in previous years. As for the US overall, there is some snow in the mountainous regions and seems to have even more than in previous years.
  • Data and recent news reports show extremely heavy snow and blizzards over northern regions of the United States, Canada, and in Iceland. More than a meter of snow throughout Canada and British Columbia have been causing significant road closures for the holiday travel season. In Iceland, the storm was so severe that it caused the Icelandic Met Office to issue an unprecedented “red alert.”
  • In 2017, Seattle had a snowy Christmas, despite local news reports stating that Christmas in the past five years shows low chances of snow. In 2018 and 2019, on few days before Christmas, there is, unfortunately, no snow in Seattle. However, for those in the area, there’s some snow in parts outside the city.
  • Europe can also tend to be quite snowless in the middle of December. It has snow in the Alps and other mountains, as well as some in Norway and Sweden, but not much. As an Estonian, I can say that this year we do not have any snow, however, MODIS dataset shows some. Also, Christmas is forecasted to be quite warm, so definitely no snowy-white Christmas for the majority of the EU in 2019.
  • Western Russia also shows low snowfall this year as well. While the region had plenty of snow in 2018, both 2017 and 2019 have shown to have much less snow. In Central Russia, 2017 had quite nice snow cover and this year seems to be quite similar.
  • The Alps always has some snow cover before Christmas, however, it still experiences some variation from year to year. We can see that there is significantly less snow cover this year compared to both 2017 . However, it is quite similar to 2018. Weather to Ski gives nice daily updates about weather conditions in Alps. 20 Dec update says: “A new active storm has hit the Alps today bringing heavy rain, heavy snow and strong winds to may areas, especially the south-western Alps.” However, last week has some warm winds and lot of rain, so much snow has melted.
Snow cover in the Alps few days before Christmas 2017, 2018 and 2019

Through visualizing and analyzing the snow cover, we noticed some atypical results for certain regions. Notably, snow cover has drastically changed over a few days without any severe weather changes to speak of. For our readers who are experiencing these weather conditions first hand, we’d love to hear how our findings match the facts (or in this case snow) on the ground. As always, drop us a note on the Datahub chat bar or email me at etoodu@intertrust.com


Many of the datasets made available through the Planet OS Datahub have been at the request of our users. For those who require a consolidated, easy to use, resource for accessing large and complex material that the Datahub does not already offer, please reach out to the team and we will work toward bringing it onboard. For more information check out the Planet OS Datahub.

Planet OS (by Intertrust)

Provided by Intertrust Technologies

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