Ah, December, when nice should rule.
And lucky Santa, he can skip the naughty ones.
That's not an option for many a gift-hunter dreading the crush at the mall, fearing "sold out" signs, or wondering how to discreetly ascertain whether a beloved uncle has strayed into extra-large territory.
Happily, there is one less complication this year: Christmas arrives in the middle of Hanukkah, so at least two of the world’s large religions are fairly well synchronized.
And Kwanzaa, the seven days that celebrate seven principles of African heritage, has a fixed start on Dec. 26.
Still, there are lists that never seem to end, countless recipes to sort through, far too little time — and questions.
Will this Christmas be a white one? It might, even if no snowflakes fall that day, explained Carlie Buccola, an Islip-based National Weather Service meteorologist. The service measures snowfall at 7 a.m., which means the day could fulfill the dream of the holiday song even if no snowflakes fall, as long as a blanket of snow from previous storms has yet to melt.
Historically, New Year's Day is ahead of Christmas when it comes to biggest snow: The most on Dec. 25 was 2.3 inches in 1966, versus 4.3 inches on Jan. 1, 1971, according to the NWS, whose records begin in 1963.
And though it might feel like winter long before Christmas, that season doesn't officially begin until Dec. 21. Possibly it will have worn out its welcome by March 19, when it ends.
HOW ABOUT THIS YEAR?
Whether December 2019 will be warmer or colder than usual is impossible to predict, according to the Weather Prediction Center, one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s College Park, Maryland-based branches. Its models show equal chances of either scenario for the eastern United States.
Skiers wondering if it will be worthwhile to soon head West might wish to know the forecasters’ analysis “favors a relatively cold start to the month across the northern Rockies and northern Great Plains before a moderating trend or transition to above-normal temperatures occurs by mid-December.”
However, “Forecast confidence decreases north of the 40th parallel across the central and eastern U.S,” the Climate Prediction Center said. That line, 40 degrees north of the equatorial plane, runs east from northern California through about the middle of New Jersey.
When it comes to precipitation, once again, the models aren't offering much certainty for the New York area. “A large area with equal chances for below, near, or above normal precipitation throughout much of the central and eastern U.S. is necessary due to weak signals,” the Center said.
The specific odds that the New York area will see more rain or snow range from 33% to 40%, the forecasters said.
WHAT'S NORMAL, WHAT'S NOT
The mean temperature in December is 35.6 degrees — close to 10 degrees cooler than November’s mean, according to the weather service.
The warmest December since 1963 was just four years ago at 48.4 degrees, the weather service said. The coolest was 1989's 24.8. The record daily high was 77 degrees in 1998.
The normal amount of rain is 3.67 inches.
The wettest December was in 1996, with 8.91 inches of rain, the weather service said. The driest was in 1985, with a mere 0.9 inch of precipitation.
Normal is 4.06 inches. The snowiest December day since Islip's records began in 1963 occurred in 2009, when 14.3 inches fell.
On Christmas itself, 1966's 2.3 inches was the snowiest, the NWS says, followed by the 1969 holiday, which got an inch. A trace of snow fell on Christmas in 1975, 1976, 1985, 1992 and 2017.
Just about every month has its share of volatile temperatures and violent storms that can, on occasion, surprise forecasters.
While lots of snow was predicted for New York City on Dec. 12, 1992, rain arrived instead — and on Long Island in this storm, the worst nor'easter in four decades, tides surged to record highs, creating an archipelago of water-bound communities from Orient to Long Beach.
Backed by sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts of 70 mph and amplified by a full moon, the sea rose across the South Shore, forcing evacuations in Babylon, where water swept over Montauk Highway, and in Freeport, where officials with bullhorns warned residents to leave their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Islanders lost power.
Weather mavens called it the most powerful nor'easter since 1950 — much worse than the one that pummeled Long Island on Halloween 1991.
Some New York City subways were shut and sections of the FDR Drive along Manhattan's East Side were underwater. Scuba divers had to rescue motorists from trapped cars. Parts of other major roadways, including the Belt Parkway, also flooded.
With bridges connecting Long Island to the mainland closed because of wind and overturned trucks, and rail service severely disrupted, the evening's commute to and from the Island qualified as a nightmare.
In the space of two hours, officials said, the storm-driven ocean breached Fire Island in four places. Six homes on the Island were lost, Suffolk County's chief fire marshal, David Fischler, said.
Both counties declared states of emergency.
In Long Beach, cut off for several hours from the mainland, the tidal surge flooded hundreds of basements and left major streets under several feet of water. In Freeport, fish were reported floating down one street.
Along Suffolk's North Shore, where some necks and points became islands, residents were stunned. "We're an island," said Eaton's Neck Fire Chief Larry Cavanagh at the time.
Seventeen years later, a truly historic blizzard struck.
The Dec. 19 to 20 storm of 2009 buried the Island in 23.9 inches, said Joe Pollina, an Islip-based NWS meteorologist. Both 9.6 inches of snow on the 19th and 14.3 on the 20th are records for the respective dates, he added by email.
That storm spawned dozens of fender-benders as snow drifted across roads that, after the plows drove through, were as slick as if there had been an ice storm.
The region's airports were immobilized, and 184 Long Island Rail Road trains were delayed or canceled — including one with 150 passengers that wound up stuck near Wyandanch for three hours after its temperamental diesel locomotive sucked up too much moisture.
There was one slight mercy for many: power outages were not widespread. At their worst, at 1 a.m., they numbered 289, according to the Long Island Power Authority.
For many commuters, the trek began with some serious shoveling — followed by nerve-wracking drives.
Huntington Hospital nurse Maureen Ibrahim, who drove from her South Shore home to work before dawn, saw her commute more than double from 25 minutes to an hour as her minivan struggled over snowdrifts and fishtailed on icy parkways.
"Most of the highways, you were lucky there was a single lane. You had to follow the tire tracks," said Ibrahim at the time.
The worst moment of her drive came just as she reached the hospital, when her tires lost traction and she slid backward, downhill, near the entrance to the emergency room. "I'm terrified of driving in the snow," she said.
She managed to get to work unscathed, though, faring better than the patients who came in with ankle and knee pain after taking a fall, or finger injuries suffered while working with snowblowers.
For Denise Voegel, 39, who lived and worked in Mattituck, what was normally a breezy drive down Main Road to Four Doors Down restaurant was transformed into a 2 1/2-hour saga. First, Voegel had to dig a path out of her driveway, about 25 feet long.
"Unfortunately, I didn't park at the end of it; I pulled all the way in. Plus, when the plows come down the street, they pile it on you," said Voegel, a bartender, at the time. "Luckily a friend came by and helped dig me out."
And then, as she backed out, her four-wheel-drive Jeep became stuck in the snow.
"Then, someone came to help me, and they got stuck in the driveway," she said.
Voegel's shift started at noon. She was 45 minutes late, but at least she made it.
Snowplow crews had it easier. The weekend storm allowed them to leave for last commuter parking lots, train stations, and areas around courthouses and some county buildings.
"We lucked out in the timing," said Ray Ribeiro, Nassau's public works commissioner, at the time. "If we were doing this as part of a regular morning commute, it would have been 10 times more difficult."