Joe Bastardi / September 11, 2013

Weather That Changed History

There are two events in my life I believe changed history that the weather had a hand in. The first is the assassination of JFK – a day that was supposed to be rainy but turned out sunny, meaning the motorcade top was down for the assassin to have a clear shot. The other, the pristine weather on September 11, 2001 that allowed the terrorists their clear shot. The cloud shot says it all. Hurricane Erin was far enough offshore that the big, cool area of high pressure to the west and the strong sinking air mass lead to what is called in aviation as Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU) conditions.

There are two events in my life I believe changed history that the weather had a hand in. The first is the assassination of JFK – a day that was supposed to be rainy but turned out sunny, meaning the motorcade top was down for the assassin to have a clear shot. The other, the pristine weather on September 11, 2001 that allowed the terrorists their clear shot.

The cloud shot says it all. Hurricane Erin was far enough offshore that the big, cool area of high pressure to the west and the strong sinking air mass lead to a condition known in aviation as Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU).

Think about this. In terms of the global weather pattern, what is 300 miles? Or 6 hours? 300 miles further west and chances are there are flight delays, if not more since Erin would be plummeting the Northeast Coast. A 6 hours delay in the rain moving out of Dallas, and the motorcade would not have the top down.

The weather on 9/11 has certainly been worse. In 1954, Edna was running the coast about 300 miles west of where Erin was.

In 1960, Hurricane Donna was over Florida, but already the East Coast was locking down as her run was starting up the coast.

In 2009 an un-named tropical cyclone hit New Jersey from the southeast, right over Atlantic City with wind gusts over 70 mph. In retrospect, if it had been named – as it should have (it had an eye, was originally an African wave, and had intensified over water in the low 80s) – people may not have gawked so much at Hurricane Sandy’s track being aware of what can happen. In this case the Jersey Devil, as I called it, would have made sure that we did not have CAVU conditions.

I often wonder “what if.” What if it had rained – how would JFK have handled the challenges of Civil Rights and Vietnam? While the civil rights movement was an effort to bring our nation together, the Vietnam War had no right answers and started a tear in the fabric of America that is, in my opinion, widening with each day given the fundamental distrust of the government.

And what about 9/11? What would the Bush presidency have been like if there was no terrorist attack that September day? Where would we be now?

We are mired in entanglements that link to a fight I am in – the climate fight – since we are not self-dependent for our economic lifeline. And with very few nuclear power plants being built, and wind and solar technology still many years away from being what people believe it can be, we are in a quick sand of our own making.

Coming full circle, what if the weather were different?


The tentacles of the weather reach into everything. But in the end, remember: Those that turn adversity into advantage not only survive, but thrive.

Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm.

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