Was 2022 the warmest Thanksgiving on record? It depends on

According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Dayton’s warmest Thanksgiving day ever occurred in 1896, when the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees.

Wow! On Thanksgiving this year, the temperature climbed to 64 degrees. It was certainly a warm Turkey day, but definitely off the record.

>>Temporary showers overnight; Clearing and cool Friday

In the field of climatology, scientists often rely on long, reliable, and consistent historical records whenever possible. These records are most commonly found at major airports, such as Dayton International Airport.

Aviation really began to flourish in the 1930s, and regular accurate weather observations were a necessity. Before these datasets, it was rather rare to find a consistent weather station with reliable long-term records. While data is certainly better than no data, it was common for weather stations to change location, report data erratically, report only certain meteorological variables, or exist for only a few years before being shut down.

Although these problems persist today, climatologists have at least the reliability of long-term historical data sets associated with commercial airports. What you typically find with these historical datasets are regular hourly readings with a reasonably robust level of quality control. They help scientists paint a much better picture of climatological trends.

Even these datasets are not immune to the problems listed, but often these errors can be mitigated much more easily than the arbitrary nature of aggregating available pre-1930s datasets. This is not to say that there are no reliable data sets prior to the 1930s either, so the 1896 observation of 70° is still perfectly valid. However, in the common practice of contemporary climatology, it is common to use so-called “first-order stations” such as you find at commercial airports.

The record for Dayton International Airport goes back to 1935. According to data downloaded from the Southern Regional Climate Center, the warmest Thanksgiving on record at Dayton International Airport from 1935 to date was 64°C, and that happened five times: 1940, 1973, 1981, 2015, and 2022.

Funny thing is that in 1940 Thanksgiving happened to fall on the penultimate Thursday of the month, by order of President Roosevelt to allow more time for Christmas shopping. Because of FDR, Dayton’s record was set in 1940, not 1968. In late 1941, FDR signed a bill into law that returned the date to the fourth Thursday of November. Needless to say, this created a huge mess, but that’s another story.

Something that helps today’s climatologists even more is the fact that in the 21st century, these first-order stations are now automated surface observation stations, or “ASOSs.” This greatly assists quality control efforts as it eliminates the possibility of human error. Obviously, the possibility of errors is still possible, but if a computer algorithm can’t mitigate those errors, ultimately a human can.

A cold front is on the way tonight, so these above-average temperatures are on the way out, and we’ll return to more seasonal temperatures this weekend and next week.

But it could certainly be worse. You might be doing Christmas shopping in your teens.

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