What if the weather had been different on 9/11?

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a bright, beautiful morning in the Northeast. I distinctly remember thinking exactly that well before 8:46 am when the first hijacked aircraft was flown into the World Trade Center. I was driving on I-195 W in Swansea heading into ABC6 and talking on the phone with Mark Searles when the first plane hit. I know we were talking about what a gorgeous day it was – morning temperatures in the 60s, not a cloud in the sky. It was one of those rare days when even the weathermen talk with each other about how nice it is.

The surface weather map from the morning of September 11, 2001
The surface weather map from the morning of September 11, 2001

There was a hurricane, Erin, offshore in the Atlantic, and a large, sprawling area of high pressure behind a departing cold front that would keep the hurricane away from our shores. The huge area of high pressure was sure to bring a spectacular, warm, but not humid, late-summer day to the whole Northeast. Highs would be in the upper 70s to mid 80s.

A satellite image from the morning of September, 11, 2001
A satellite image from the morning of September, 11, 2001

Of course, the lasting memory for me, and most other people, is not of the blue sky, but the gray-black sky over NYC and Washington DC after the planes hit their intended targets. My day, which was likely to include a soft news story, took an abrupt turn when the second plane hit the South Tower. Shortly after 9AM, when I arrived at work, it was quickly becoming apparent that this was a terrorist attack. I was immediately sent to TF Green Airport to cover that end of the story – talking to passengers who were rerouted, and waiting to get the latest from airport officials about whether anyone would be flying into or out of TF Green that day. As it turns out, nobody flew into or out of TF Green for several days.

I remember telling passengers who were coming off of rerouted planes what had happened. Many of them had no idea why they were forced to land at TF Green. Times have changed quite a bit since then, but in 2001, not everyone had a cell phone, and there was one smartphone on the market – with very limited web capability.

Even while I was telling people about the planes hitting the Towers and the Pentagon, I still did not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. I took a minute to call my father at work to see if he was aware of what was transpiring. I’ll never forget his response, “Yeah, I know. The Towers just collapsed.” Just over an hour earlier, I couldn’t fathom anyone hijacking a plane and flying it like a missile into buildings. Now, even after seeing the Towers burning, I could not believe that they had collapsed. I knew the world would never be the same.

I often wonder, what if the weather had been different on that day? What if it was a blanket of fog instead of brilliant blue sky over the Northeast? Were the hijackers so proficient at flying the planes that they would have been able to effectively use the sophisticated instruments to fly the planes if they didn’t have a clear view of their targets from many miles away?

If the answer to the last question is “no”, then it is nothing more than chance that allowed the hijackers to complete their horrifying mission on such a favorable day. All the tickets were purchased in the last week of August, so I doubt much thought was given to what the weather would be – unless it didn’t matter. But, I believe it did. I think that an inexperienced pilot, without hundreds of hours of flying time, would have had a very difficult time navigating a Boeing 767 into a building, even one as massive as the Towers, if it were shrouded in fog. Maybe the hijackings would have still occurred, and maybe the planes would have hit other buildings in New York City and Washington DC. Maybe the impact on our nation would have been the same. Or, maybe the plan would have been scrapped, and subsequently thwarted by the FBI or CIA.

Unfortunately we will never know what would have happened. Instead, we are left with the harsh reality of what did happen. The hijackers turning a blue sky into a black sky, and finally into an empty sky.

Now, 11 years later, it’s still fresh in our minds. Even though I don’t need a reminder, this year there will be plenty – it’s a Tuesday, it will be a glorious late-summer day from Boston to New York to Washington DC, and there’s even a tropical system moving away from us in the Atlantic Ocean.

I hope you will take a minute on this somber anniversary to remember all those lost on 9/11.


Fred Campagna

President and Chief Meteorologist - Right Weather LLC AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist #756 AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist #126

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