Thanksgiving in the nation’s capital is shaping up to be quite cold this year — perfect weather for indulging in high-calorie comfort food. If you’re like me and usually celebrate Turkey Day in the D.C. metro area, you’re probably well aware that Mother Nature doesn’t stick to the same menu from one year to the next. Some years we get a helping of wintry cold, while others have been nearly warm enough to think about moving the meal outside.
In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, here’s a look at some of Washington’s Thanksgiving weather history, which takes into account the variable dates* of Thanksgiving over the past century.
With winter just around the corner, Thanksgiving in D.C. usually isn’t particularly warm. The city’s average high temperature during Thanksgiving week (Nov. 22-28) ranges from 53 to 55 degrees, and the average low ranges from 37 to 39 degrees. Historically, 65 percent of Thanksgivings have seen highs in the 40s or 50s, while only 19 percent have been 60 degrees or warmer. The holiday has trended warmer in recent years, however. Daytime highs in the 60s or warmer are now about as likely as highs stuck in the chilly 40s, as shown in the graph below.
Still, Thanksgiving with high temperatures stuck in the wintry 30s is more likely than a warm Thanksgiving in the 70s, which has happened only twice in the last 30 years. One was Thanksgiving 2007, when the temperature at Reagan National Airport hit a record 77 degrees on Nov. 22 — a new milestone for D.C.’s warmest Thanksgiving on record.
On the flip side, D.C.’s coldest Thanksgiving was Nov. 27, 1930, when the high temperature only reached 30 degrees (still a record low maximum temperature for the date). It remains D.C.’s only Thanksgiving when the high temperature stayed below freezing all day. The coldest low temperature ever recorded in D.C. on Thanksgiving Day was 19 degrees on Nov. 26, 1903 — when the city’s weather observations were taken downtown. At National Airport, the coldest Thanksgiving morning was 25 degrees on Nov. 24, 2005.
Historically, Thanksgiving has rarely been a washout in the nation’s capital, which isn’t too surprising since the air tends to get more moisture-starved as temperatures drop and winter approaches. Roughly 1 in 3 Thanksgivings in D.C. has seen measurable precipitation, but usually not huge amounts. Only 10 Thanksgivings in 145 years of weather records saw more than half an inch of precipitation on the holiday.
D.C.’s wettest Thanksgiving on record was Nov. 25, 1971, when 1.15 inches of precipitation fell as a mix of rain and snow, while the wettest “rain only” Thanksgiving occurred Nov. 30, 1916, when 0.96 inche fell on the holiday.
Turkey and a side of snow?
Given D.C.’s already low odds of seeing a white Christmas, our chances of seeing measurable snow on Thanksgiving are pretty dismal. A white Thanksgiving has happened only six times in the past 145 years, none of them in recent memory. The last time Washington saw measurable snow on Thanksgiving Day was nearly 30 years ago — in 1989. That year, 1.6 inches of snow fell at National Airport the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, followed by another 1.9 inches on the holiday itself.
The White Thanksgiving of 1989 was also the last time D.C. recorded any accumulating snow in the month of November. (Dulles Airport, however, last saw accumulating snowfall in November when 0.3 inches fell the day before Thanksgiving in 2005).
Luckily, there won’t be any rain or snow to get in the way of Thanksgiving travel plans this year. No matter how warm or cold it is on Turkey Day, dry weather and sunny skies are definitely something to be thankful for.
*From the Civil War until 1939, Thanksgiving was observed on the final Thursday in November, causing the holiday to occur as late as Nov. 29 or 30. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed for the holiday to be observed a week earlier than usual. In 1940 and 1941, Thanksgiving occurred as early as Nov. 21 and 20, respectively, until the modern date of Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) was established in 1942.
A version of this article was originally published on Nov. 22, 2011 and updated with data through 2016.