“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” That’s what Irving Berlin sang in 1942 for the film Holiday Inn, filmed in the US. Here in Malta, his dream of “sleigh bells in the snow” would have remained just that – a dream.
Will the white Christmas phenomenon ever be possible here, in the heart of the Mediterranean? Well, the closest we can ever get to a Christmas-card type of ‘White Christmas’ is if we have a bout of soft hail or snow pellets – also known as graupel. Speaking with The Journal, Michela Catania, Communications and Marketing Officer of Malta’s Meteorological Office office at the Malta International Airport, explained that graupel is a type of precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets freeze onto snowflakes, creating small and soft pellets of ice. It is distinct from hail, sleet, and snow. The formation of graupel typically occurs in certain atmospheric conditions, often associated with convective cloud systems. These are cloud formations that result from convective activity in the atmosphere: the vertical movement of air masses due to temperature differences, creating upward and downward air currents.
Michela Catania explains that, in Malta, neither the air temperature, which is not cold enough, nor the surrounding sea, which is relatively warm, are favourable for any precipitation to fall as snow on the ground. The process of snow formation involves the crystallisation of water vapour in the atmosphere, and snow generally forms in cold weather conditions when the temperature is below freezing point, which is 0 degrees Celsius.
That seems unlikely when one considers that, in Malta, between 2018 and last year, the average temperature on Christmas Day was 16.3°C, whilst the average on New Year’s Day was 12.7°C. The highest temperature recorded in December since 1922 was that of 24.3 degrees Celsius in 1963.
That doesn’t mean that our holiday season might not be a wet one. Since 1922, the highest total rainfall recorded was in 1970, with a total of 302.6 mm of rainfall. If you’re not good at visualising numbers, that’s approximately the height of a one-drawer nightstand or side table. In comparison, the driest December on record was that of 2022, with a total rainfall of 6.4 mm.
We might even get a windy Christmas. The highest monthly average wind speed recorded in December since 1922 was that of 14.1 knots in 1950. That’s around 26.1km per hour. On the other hand, the highest wind gust recorded in December since 1922 was that of 68 knots in 1981.
Since those are our only options, most of us really want to know whether the holiday season this year will be wet, dry, windy, or sunny. Sadly, that’s a hard one to answer. Michela Catania explained that the MET office provides a seven-day forecast. However, she adds that predictions may change from one day to the next.
Now, for those insisting on singing the White Christmas song: extensive observation has led us to believe that whilst many of you know the famous first line, most people mumble through the rest. Here’s for the sake of clarification:
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write:
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white”.
Unless you’d prefer to come up with an alternative version that embraces the warmth and joy of a Maltese Christmas!
“I long for a Maltese Christmas
With sunshine bright and skies so clear
And no snowflakes falling, no noisy brawling
Just warmth and joy and festive cheer!”
Main photo credit: Karen Laårk Boshoff