US & Canada

Why New York is a wet and warm wonderland this Christmas

mid-December 2013 versus 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mid-December in New York in 2013, mid-December in Washington, 2015

In the movies, New York is always cold and covered in snow at Christmas - but this season it's an unseasonably warm and wet wonderland.

Hundreds of record highs are expected to fall on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day across eastern parts of the US and Canada, with temperatures forecast as high as 77F (25C) in Georgia, 75F further north in Washington, and 15C (59F) in Toronto.

While the East enjoys spring-like warmth, forecasters predict heavy snow across the West while tornadoes have been reported as a storm system crosses parts of the South.

In a reversal of a traditional Christmas, forecasters expect temperatures in New York to be several degrees higher than in Los Angeles.

70F (21C)

Forecasted temperature for Christmas Eve in New York

  • 75F (24C) Forecast for Washington on Christmas Eve

  • 69F Previous daily record (1933)

  • 59F (15C) Forecast for Portland, Maine on Christmas Eve

  • 53F Previous daily record (1957)

Getty Images

Bruce Bombara, a construction worker who was wearing a t-shirt outside Penn Station in Manhattan, told the BBC that he was freezing this time last year. "I think it's great that there's no snow - I love it. It lingers too long. I'll take the rain over snow any day."

"Oh God this time last year I remember it was cold and dry," said Lillian White as she waited for a cab. "No, I don't miss the snow. I don't miss the inconvenience of it - especially from last year. I do miss the snowflakes though."

But for Montana Cole, a student originally from Chicago who was wearing a sweatshirt and shorts, the unseasonable weather in New York felt all wrong.

"I think snow is a lot better than this rain. I grew up with seeing snow at this time of the year. Right now it doesn't really feel like Christmas."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Not so snowy scene: Unlike in the movies, it's raining not snowing at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center

And it's not just the holiday week that's been warmer than usual - it's been an unseasonably warm month across North America.

Warm December

More than 2,500 record daily highs and 30 monthly records have already been tied or broken across the US after a wave of extremely warm temperatures earlier in December.

In Washington, the iconic spring cherry blossoms have begun blooming again, while in Buffalo, in upstate New York, the first measurable snowfall arrived very late on 18 December. New York City is close to tying its record for the number of consecutive days above freezing - 274 days.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBBC Weather's Peter Gibbs explains the record-breaking warm spell

Several cities have set daily record highs in the middle of the night, instead of the middle of the afternoon, according to the Weather Channel.

Christmas records

In places like Chicago and Minneapolis, the average December temperatures are double-digits higher than normal - and that's not counting the upcoming record-breaking days.

In Boston, temperatures are expected to be between 15 to 25 degrees above the normal high, with Christmas Eve's 1996 record high of 61F (16C) at risk.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Icy blast from the past: Ottawa's Rideau Canal, seen here in 2012, is unlikely to have thick enough ice to open to skaters as normal in January

Canada's capital Ottawa is expected to reach 59F (15C) as well, and warm temperatures will potentially delay the city's Rideau Canal from opening for ice skating.

Montreal will also see warm temperatures of up to 61F (16C) on Christmas Eve, but like many parts of eastern Canada, will see cooler, but still unseasonable temperatures on Christmas Day.

Unlikely white but this warm?

Despite the famous song that has Americans dreaming of a white Christmas, snow on 25 December is actually quite rare in much of the US.

A recent historical study by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration found that the only locations where snow cover was "extremely probable" were parts of western mountain regions, the downwind side of the Great Lakes and northern New England.

Image copyright NOAA
Image caption Historic probability map of a "White Christmas"

But it is almost never this warm, especially in the more northern parts of the US.

Weather forecasters point to El Nino, a weather pattern that warms the Pacific Ocean near the equator, pushing warm air further east and north.