Fargo Moorhead residents are waking up this morning to another brown Thanksgiving. Lack of snow cover on Thanksgiving Day has become very common place in recent years. Since the turn of the century there have been only two Thanksgivings with snow on the ground. One was just last year when a bit over two inches of snow fell with a stiff north wind during the day.
Thanksgiving 2012 was probably the worst travel day on Thanksgiving Day itself since 1993 when 8 inches of snow fell that year on the holiday. Besides 2012, the only other Thanksgiving this century with snow on the ground was back in 2010 when a 12 inch snow event occurred a couple of days before Thanksgiving giving us a snow depth of 8 inches on the holiday. That was the most snow on the ground on the fourth Thursday in November since 1996.
Although very few Thanksgivings in the past decade have been white, several of them turned white before the long holiday weekend was completed.
Last year, today was a rare snowy Thanksgiving Day. Since 1950, there had only been four Thanksgivings with more than one inch of snow falling on the holiday, meaning last year made it five. Unlike this year, there had been several previous snowfalls before that event, but the one a year ago was the first of the season that created nasty travel conditions around Fargo Moorhead.
A bit over two inches fell with a strong north wind lowering visibility and with temperatures going from above to below freezing, the roads became quite icy. This year, Thanksgiving falls as late as it can on November 28. Since records began in 1881, measurable precipitation falls on any given November day about 20% of the time, but those odds increase as the month progresses. The period of this month with the highest historical chance of precipitation are the 25, 26 and 27 when nearly 30% of those days have recorded precipitation. Meaning, the later Thanksgiving falls, the higher the chance of slippery roads.
The iconic image of Thanksgiving is sometimes represented by a sleigh drawn by horses ferrying a family through the woods to grandmother’s house for dinner. Of course without snow covering the ground, that sleigh would not go very far. The problem with that image, even locally, with one of the coldest climates in the lower 48 states, is that snow cover on Thanksgiving Day tends to be very light or none existent.
In Fargo, there has only been one Thanksgiving this century with snow covering the ground and that was two years ago when the official snow depth was 7 inches. Previous to that year, to enjoy a true sleigh ride experience you would need to go back to Thanksgiving 1996 when two snow storms left us with a snow pack of 13 inches that year.
Other recent notable snow covered Thanksgivings include 1993 with 12 inches on the ground (with 8 inches falling that day) and in 1985 and 1977 with over a foot on the ground.
Although white Christmas’ are expected in Fargo Moorhead, if by chance you dream of playing in the snow on Thanksgiving Day, you have been out of luck in recent years. Nine out of the past ten years have had either no snow or only a trace reported on Thanksgiving morning.
That one exception was last year when 12 inches fell just a few days before Thanksgiving. Otherwise, this century has been dominated by brown yards on this day. Granted, many of these holiday weekends did not finish brown as on several occasions travel conditions deteriorated the following three days, but at least this day set aside to give thanks, most of us could add weather to the list of things to be thankful for.
Although the record high for tomorrow is 56 degrees, that year this date was not the holiday. The warmest Thanksgiving Day occurred back in 1901 when the high was 55 degrees and we could come close to breaking that record tomorrow afternoon.
Historically, about one-half of all years will have a weather event during the four day Thanksgiving weekend that makes travel difficult, but usually the bad weather does not occur on Thursday. Since 1950, it has snowed one inch or more only four times on Thanksgiving Day and on 47 of those 58 years (81%) no measurable precipitation fell, including 14 out of the last 15.
That one exception was back in 2003 when one-half inch of snow fell in Fargo Moorhead. The heaviest Thanksgiving Day snow was 7.8 inches that fell back in 1993. That was part of a stretch of seven straight days of snow that added up to over a foot with snow falling over the entire four day holiday weekend that year. So on this day of giving thanks, we can often give thanks for the weather and it appears today will be another in our streak of dry Thanksgiving days.
With Thanksgiving coming up this week many of you will be paying close attention to the weather forecast. The common perception is that it there always seems to be a storm during the Thanksgiving weekend. There are probably two reasons for this. First, is length, as over the course of four or five days the odds of some precipitation falling is always relatively high and it does not take much precipitation to cause travel headaches.
The second may surprise you and deals with the timing of storms. In the 127 previous years of record keeping the days in November with the highest percentage of precipitation occurring have been on the 25th, 26th and 27th with snow falling on those days in nearly one year in three. The November daily average is for precipitation to fall on any given day in about one year in five. So the perception of storms around Thanksgiving does have some statistical confirmation to it.