When was New York City's warmest Thanksgiving? It depends on who you ask.

What You Need To Know

  • New York City’s National Weather Service office keeps a handy holiday weather records “cheat sheet” for meteorological use

  • The top-5 warmest, coldest, wettest and snowiest holidays in NYC are easily accessible from this sheet

  • This is especially useful when the date of the holiday changes, like Thanksgiving, and because Thanksgiving was not always the 4th Thursday in November

  • These little-known date changes affect the record of the warmest Thanksgiving in New York City’s history

While this year’s Thanksgiving Day forecast looks quite average for the end of November, there have been recent Thanksgivings with unseasonably cool or warm weather. This year marks the 400th Thanksgiving.

First celebrated in October 1621, it was a harvest festival that took place over 3 days. We don’t have written accounts of the weather on that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

We do, however, have local weather records for Thanksgiving in New York City that date back to 1868. 

The typical weather for turkey day is a morning low around 40 degrees and an afternoon high that reaches the low 50s in the city. However, some of the warmest weather on Thanksgiving has been much hotter.

Holiday weather data from the New York office of the National Weather Service point to a 72-degree high on Thursday, November 25, 1920. That would mean that this year marks the 100th anniversary of NYC’s warmest Thanksgiving on record. 

But does it?

In looking for news articles published at the time about that exceptionally warm date, there is a very different story. Interestingly, The New York Times weather column and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Weather Bureau (the agency that later became the National Weather Service) both recorded a dramatically cooler forecast. 

On that date, 100 years ago, the newspaper reported that cloudy weather ruled the sky with a northwest wind.

Temperatures all around the region were in the 40s that day on the Weather Bureau's maps. The Times forecast actually mentions light snow! In 72-degree weather? What gives!

Here’s a possible clue: 1920 was the first year that weather data was collected at Belvedere Castle in Central Park. Could there have been calibration issues with the thermometer? Why are all the other temperatures in the Northeast region all within five degrees of the The Times column and the Weather Bureau map?

The New York National Weather Service office double checked the data and found that indeed, the weather on Thanksgiving 1920 was 39 degrees with a trace of snow. That was an easy fix.

The next warmest date on the weather service’s holiday weather sheet comes 13 years later on November 30th, 1933. On the front page of the next day’s New York Times, the headlines touted a “touch of spring” that was welcomed into the city.

The article states that 69 degrees was the warmest ever for the date, and it was also the warmest Thanksgiving Day on record, according to the paper. The interesting part is that the Weather Bureau maps agree, showing 70s from Philly, Baltimore and Atlantic City. 

Mystery solved...or so we think. Other official sources point to ANOTHER year where the weather was 72 degrees on Thanksgiving in the city. NOAA’s Regional Climate Center data is often used by climate organizations to create TV-ready graphics, like the one seen below.

Why isn’t this Thanksgiving date in 1941 recognized by the New York Weather Service office?

The reason could be that in October 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving be moved from the fourth Thursday of November to the third Thursday in November. Only some states recognized this new date beginning in 1940, including New York.

This changed the date of Thanksgiving for two years, because Congress proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November to be the Thanksgiving holiday, just two years and two months later in December 1941.

That year, in 1941, the New York weather service office used the fourth Thursday for the data, not the third (when the holiday was celebrated locally). 

This makes a difference, because the third Thursday (actual Thanksgiving that year in New York City and 23 other states, including Washington D.C.) is when Central Park recorded the warmest Thanksgiving on record, with a high of 72 degrees.

Mystery solved. (for real this time)

More recently, in 2007, Thanksgiving Day was very warm with a high of 66 degrees. The year of 2004 came in with a high of 65. Those years take third and fourth place, respectively, for the warmest Thanksgivings on record. 

As far as the coldest Thanksgiving, the recent 17-degree start on Thanksgiving morning, 2018, is probably still frozen in everyone’s mind. The temperature never made it above freezing that afternoon! 

Rainiest and windiest Thanksgiving records are also kept, but let's solve one mystery at time.