Blue Sky in the Morning: After 9/11, the Weather Was Never the Same

No one remembers now, but there had been hurricane talk then too. A storm called Erin had been making its way up the Eastern Seaboard, causing fussy weather for the Mid-Atlantic states, until an incoming Canadian air mass nudged her out over the North Atlantic.

National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Conte was working at the New York-area station that day. “I remember it being a very refreshing day,” he said, “with a nice, cool air mass coming in. And it was the first day that the air mass, this cool dry air mass, was moving southeast from Canada, so it felt even better…Without looking at the maps, I remember that much.”

As is often the case when such a front moves into a warm, moist, unstable air mass, there had been thunderstorms the day before. That morning, however, the humidity broke and the sky was nearly cloudless.

It felt like the first day of fall, the kind of day for which the word “lovely” was made, the clear, autumnal sky at once flat and deep, stretched taut over the city.

At 7 am, the temperature was 67 degrees. At 8 am, it was 70. By 9 am, it had risen to 73. But by then, no one was thinking about the weather.

The visibility is listed at 10 miles, which means if you’d looked north, you could have seen the first plane skirting in low over the Hudson a little less than 30 seconds before it hit. But then who would think to look for that? Who could foresee such an intrusion, and on a day like that?

Much was made at the time of W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” but a reread shows it to contain very little analog, save the titular month. But one passage does pertain: “Into this neutral air/ Where blind skyscrapers use/ Their full height to proclaim/ The strength of Collective Man.”

The “neutral air” here gives pause, however. Such air can no longer be neutral, if you were here.  Ever since, when we wake to a day like that, the crisp, clear sky is not without a hint of menace. The memory of that morning passes across the mind, and the idyll is twinged with anxiety.

bgallagher@observer.com