Visualization of cold air barging into the Northeast between Wednesday and Thursday, before quickly departing by Saturday, from European model.

A brief but powerful cold snap will hit Washington right in time for Thanksgiving, resulting in some of the lowest temperatures during the holiday in years, if not decades.

The bitter chill will arrive Wednesday night as an Arctic front charges southeast from Canada.

Highs may reach 50 on Wednesday afternoon but will tumble through the 40s during the evening.

Forecast temperatures from American (GFS) model from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The high temperature on Thanksgiving — probably in the mid-30s — is likely to occur in its opening minute at midnight as temperatures drop steadily overnight into the morning — falling below freezing. Then, during the day, despite sunshine, highs may not top 30 to 35 degrees in many areas.

Such temperatures are about 20 to 25 degrees below normal.

Factoring in the wind, sustained around 10 mph with gusts to 20 mph, wind chills will topple into the teens Thanksgiving morning and hold in the 20s through much of the day. Single-digit wind chills are likely from New York City and to the north, where the core of the wind and cold will be.

Forecast wind chills from American (GFS) model at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

As winds ease Thanksgiving night and into Friday morning, temperatures will really tank — as far as the upper teens in our colder spots to the low to mid-20s downtown. Anyone heading out early for Black Friday specials will really need to bundle up.

European model temperature forecast at 7 a.m. on Black Friday. (

How this Thanksgiving ranks in the records books will depend on how fast the cold air arrives Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

  • If the high, likely to occur at midnight, is below 40 degrees, it will mark the coldest Thanksgiving in five years.
  • If the high is below 38 degrees, it will mark the coldest Thanksgiving in 18 years.
  • If the high is below 35 degrees, it will mark the coldest Thanksgiving in 22 years.
  • If the high is below 30 degrees, it will mark the coldest Thanksgiving ever recorded.

The coldest Thanksgiving high temperature in recorded history was 30 degrees in 1930.

Top five coldest Thanksgivings in Washington

Year High temperature
1930 (Nov. 27) 30
1903 (Nov. 26) 33
1901 (Nov. 28) 33
1996 (Nov. 28) 35
1989 (Nov. 23) 35

The cold air will ease some on the afternoon of Black Friday, rising into the low to mid-40s.