2006 Sep 15, 8:08pm
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Clear Skies

Written September 15, 2001

I went for a long ride on my road bike today, and one particular thing caught my attention – the sky. Something seemed odd, and at first I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but then it hit me: it was a beautiful, clear day (a gift of a day really) and I found myself riding through an Italian Renaissance painting. There was nothing Italianate in the landscape of course, no distant mountains, no cypresses, no Roman architecture, but the color of the sky, and the quality of the light was akin to that which I have only previously seen in older paintings – Italian, or perhaps pieces from the Hudson River School era.

With virtually all air travel suspended, there were no contrails, and the massive quantities of airline pollution that are daily pumped into the upper atmosphere over the States had finally cleared to unveil a sublime, azure masterpiece the likes of which I have never seen in person, and very likely will never behold again. It was indeed a peaceful – dare I say transcendent – experience. I find myself unable to conjure words that will carry enough weight of expression to communicate the experience. I suppose you just had to be there… Maybe you were.

Footnote addendum: An interesting article in U.S. News & World Report on May 27, 2002 titled, “Cool your jets”, cited a study presented at an American Meteorological Society conference. The study used satellite photos to “track military jet contrails as they spread  within just a few hours into sheets of high cloud covering thousands of square miles”.  It went on to say that another study showed how spreading contrails limit temperature extremes by dimming sunlight and trapping heat closer to the ground. During the ban on air travel more than 4000 weather stations reported a temperature range more than 1 degree Celsius wider than normal.


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