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Was 2022 the warmest Thanksgiving on record? It depends

DAYTON — According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, the warmest Thanksgiving on record in Dayton occurred in 1896 where the temperature topped out at a balmy 70 degrees.

Wow! This year’s Thanksgiving, the temperature climbed to 64 degrees. It was certainly a warm Turkey Day, but definitely short of the record.

>>Passing showers overnight; Clearing and cooler Friday

In the field of climatology, scientists often rely on long, reliable, consistent historical records whenever possible. These datasets are most often found at major airports, like the Dayton International Airport for example.

By the 1930s, aviation was really beginning to flourish, and regular accurate weather observations were a necessity. Before these datasets, it was somewhat rare to find a consistent weather station with reliable long-term records. While certainly any data is better than no data, it was common for weather stations to move locations, report data irregularly, report only certain meteorological variables, or exist only for a few years before shutting down.

While these problems also exist today, climatologists at least have the reliability of historical long-term datasets associated with commercial airports. What you typically find with these historical datasets are regular hourly readings with a somewhat 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 haphazard nature of aggregating available datasets prior to the 1930s. This is not to say that there are not reliable datasets prior to the 1930s either, so the 1896 observation of 70° is still absolutely valid. However, in the general practice of contemporary climatology, it is common to use what are known as “first-order stations” like you find at commercial airports.

The dataset for the Dayton International Airport goes back to 1935. According to data downloaded from the Southern Regional Climate Center, the warmest Thanksgivings on record at the Dayton International Airport from 1935 to present day top out at 64°, and it happened five times: 1940, 1973, 1981, 2015, and 2022.

What is funny is that in 1940, Thanksgiving happened to fall on the second-to-last Thursday of the month by order of President Roosevelt to allow more time for Christmas shopping. Because of FDR, the record for Dayton was set in 1940 rather than 1968. By the end of 1941, FDR signed a bill returning the date to the fourth Thursday of November. Needless to say, this caused a huge mess but that is another story.

Something which helps today’s climatologists even more is the fact that in the 21st century, these first-orders stations are now Automated Surface Observing Stations, or “ASOSs”. This greatly helps quality control efforts as it eliminates the possibility for human error. Obviously, the chance for error is still possible, but if a computer algorithm cannot mitigate these errors, a human ultimately can.

A cold front is on the way in tonight, so these above-average temperatures are on their way out, and we will be returning to more seasonable temperatures this weekend and into next week.

It certainly could be worse though. You could be Christmas shopping in the teens.