What Are the Odds of a White Thanksgiving in the United States?

Brian Donegan
Published: November 13, 2017

Thanksgiving can feature a wide variety of weather, ranging from snow and cold to shorts and flip flop weather, depending on where in the United States you spend it.

While we normally hear the term White Christmas thrown around each year, have you ever wondered the probability of a White Thanksgiving?

(MORE: Winter Storm Central)

Alaskan climatologist Dr. Brian Brettschneider crunched the numbers and produced this handy map to illustrate those odds.

The criteria is a snow depth of 1 inch or greater on Thanksgiving, or measurable snow (0.1 inches or greater) on that date. (Brian Brettschneider)

Since Thanksgiving is not on the same date every year, the stats take this into account. The holiday always falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

If you want to see snow on 90 to 100 percent of Thanksgivings, you should spend it in northern Canada. Much of inland Alaska will also suffice.

(MORE: 10 Facts About Snow That Might Surprise You)

Fairbanks, Alaska, for example, has seen a White Thanksgiving each of the past 86 years, with at least one inch of snow on the ground or measurable snow (0.1 inches or more) falling on that date. 

The best odds of seeing a White Thanksgiving in the Lower 48 states are 60 to 80 percent in far northern New England, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, far northwest Wisconsin, northern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota.

(MORE: Yes, There Is a 'Blizzard Alley,' and It's in the Plains)

At the Marquette, Michigan, National Weather Service office, 43 of the last 55 Thanksgivings have met the White Thanksgiving criteria, for a 78 percent probability.

International Falls, Minnesota, has had a White Thanksgiving 52 of the last 68 years, or 76 percent of the time. In Duluth, Minnesota, 49 of the last 68 Thanksgivings have met the criteria, for a probability of 72 percent.

(MORE: The Science Behind Lake-Effect Snow)

In northern New England, Caribou, Maine, has seen a White Thanksgiving 52 of the last 76 years, or 68 percent of the time.

Most of the reporting stations in the Rocky Mountains have a 40 to 60 percent chance of a White Thanksgiving. These probabilities also extend into the adjacent Plains of Montana, North Dakota, central Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan.

Don't Bet On It Here

If you aren't a fan of snow with your turkey, consider spending Thanksgiving along the West Coast, in the South, or along the East Coast from New York City southward. These regions all have less than a 5 percent probability of a White Thanksgiving.

In New York City's Central Park, only 4 of the last 96 Thanksgivings have met the criteria for a White Thanksgiving – a probability of only 4 percent.

Washington D.C.'s chances are even lower at just 3 percent, as only 2 of the last 70 years featured a White Thanksgiving.

No, Miami and Los Angeles have never seen snow on Thanksgiving. However, Boston runs a 10 percent risk of a White Thanksgiving, as 7 of the last 68 years met the criteria.

Thanksgiving Snow Cover the Last Five Years

Snow cover across the Lower 48 states on Thanksgiving Day was over 20 percent in four of the past five years.

This animation shows snow cover in the U.S. on Thanksgiving day during the past five years. (NOAA)

Thanksgiving 2014 had the most widespread snow coverage in the past five years at 33 percent. Boosting the snow cover that year was Winter Storm Cato, which brought widespread snowfall to the Northeast the day before Thanksgiving.

The lowest snow coverage on Thanksgiving Day in the last five years was 2012 at just 6 percent across the Lower 48. Most of the snow cover was confined to the Rocky Mountains.

Playing a role in the low amount of snow cover that year is the fact that November 2012 ranked as the eighth driest on record in continental U.S. dating to 1895.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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