Snow Hypothesis for the Holidays

Eneli Toodu
Dec 19, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo Credit: Elen Toodu

Last year we applied Planet OS data to visualize the snow conditions during Christmas. This year, we decided to take a look a bit sooner to project 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 also affect the arrival of the summer monsoon season and influence how long it will last.

As the holiday season is about to begin, we wanted to 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 Earth, the data is only collected during the daytime. Below, you will find the highlights from the analysis and I compared the results with last year analysis.

Daily snow cover using Modis/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global dataset.

Here are some of the things I discovered:

  • Typically, Canada has a considerate amount of snow prior to, during and after Christmas. The same could be said for certain parts of North America, especially in mountainous regions. However, within Canada this year the regions with snow cover show some variation. This year there’s slightly less snow than last year.
  • Last year Seattle had a snowy Christmas, despite that local news has been reporting that Christmas in the past five years shows low chances of snow. This year, on the week before Christmas, unfortunately, there is no snow in Seattle.
  • Last year, our European audiences didn’t receive much snow except for those living in the Alps, some parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. This year, many of those same areas appear to have some snow. Many areas have just a bit snow. However, even a sprinkle of snow offers the promise of a white Christmas. The Alps similar snow coverage as last year. They will definitely have a snowy Christmas.
  • Some countries in the eastern parts of the globe, such as Russia, China, and Mongolia, had snow last year and are expected to have it this year as well. Although, for some regions, this can still be up in the air
  • In the video above we took a closer look at Canada and Europe. You can use the interactive map from my analysis to zoom in on other parts of the world to see their snow results.
  • Snow cover in Alps is quite similar with last year. However, this year even central part of Italy have pretty good snow coverage.
Snow cover in Alps week before Christmas 2018 and 2017 Christmas

Through visualizing and analyzing the snow cover, we noticed some atypical results for some regions. Notably, snow cover has drastically changed over the course of 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 or email me at

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.

Eneli Toodu

Written by

Data Integration Engineer at Intertrust Technologies Corporation

Planet OS (by Intertrust)

Provided by Intertrust Technologies

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