Chapter 5: College, Climatology, and Computers
Boarding a fast moving train
Tallahassee looked good that September. It was great to be back to this familiar community, this time living on a captain’s salary. The Bretts, Perrens, and Haywoods came with us. Our four families had met in Fairbanks three years earlier and this was our fourth consecutive assignment together, so our children once again moved with a few of their friends, and this helped to preserve some feeling of continuity in their gypsy-like lives.
My department chair and advisor Dr. Seymour Hess decided that I could start class work right where I left off six years earlier at Penn State, but when classes began, I felt like I was trying to board a train traveling at sixty miles an hour. By Christmas vacation I still wasn’t certain that I wouldn’t, instead, fall off and be run over by the train. I salvaged the semester by camping out at the library over the Christmas break and doing well in my final exams. This paid off, and I was able to catch up with the rest of my classmates and did well in the semester final exams a month later.
One of the requirements for a masters degree in meteorology at FSU was to conduct a seminar. The title of mine was Evidence for the Seasonal, Latitudinal, and Secular Variation of CO2 in the Atmosphere, and I drew upon my experience in the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron where we had collected air samples for Dr. Charles D. Keeling at Scripps Oceanographic Institute.
Dr. Keeling kindly sent me additional data collected from April 1960 through April 1961 that he had published in an article in Tellus. Three of the data sets in the northern hemisphere are plotted in Figure 3 below.
Since there was little longitudinal variation of CO2 concentration in warm air (air to the south of the polar jet stream) compared to variations in colder air to its north, Keeling grouped our data into two sets: cold air and warm air. A third data set collected high on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii is also plotted. Similar sampling was conducted at a ground-level site in Antarctica.
Variations in CO2 Concentration in the Northern Hemisphere:
Mar 1958-Aug 1961
After D.C. Keeling
Analysis of these data showed some interesting patterns. There was a well-defined annual cycle in all three northern hemispheric data sets with a maximum in the spring, before the growing season begins and fossil fuel burning ( a CO2 source) in private homes ends. The minimum is in the fall when vegetation withers and died from the advancing cold.
Mauna Loa’s annual increase in CO2 was the same as found in data collected by the 55th, so, after 1961, our sampling was no longer needed. It was at this time that the world anxiously began to monitor this trend and ponder its potential impact on planet Earth – global warming. Thirty-five years later we are still monitoring and pondering.
Grades were never a major concern of mine. A grade point average of “B” or better is required to stay in graduate school – and this was easy – but even a straight “A” average was only a ticket to your comprehensive final examinations (comps). FSU’s meteorology faculty was infamous for “eating its young” at comp time, especially during the oral exams.
After congratulating me when I passed my own comps, Dr. Hess explained FSU’s philosophy. He pointed out that each member of my committee was an expert in his own field, and could easily press me at any time until my memory failed. That’s when they would find out whether I really understood what I was saying, or that I was merely being a parrot, repeating what I had been told or read without understanding it. He said that in the middle of my derivation of the 22o halo formula that Dr. Richard Craig had asked me, I obviously couldn’t remember the next step and had to step back and dig deep before continuing. He recognized that I was thinking it through rather than simply relying on rote memory. After that, he said, he had no further questions.
The late Dr. Richard Craig who taught me physics of the upper atmosphere had been my favorite professor. I did well in his class and would normally go to him when I needed counsel. During my last semester, as I spent most of my time studying for my comps, I thought I had uncovered a shorter proof for why halos in cirrus clouds around the moon measured 22o across. Dr. Craig’s proof was lengthy and I saw this short-cut using the mathematical concept of necessary and sufficient. Mathematically, if one can show that a certain condition exists that is both necessary and sufficient then no other proof is required. Dr. Craig agreed with me. When he asked me to supply the same proof during my orals I thanked him under my breath. It helps to have friends in high places. Of course Dr. Hess knew nothing of and my previous conversations on this subject with Dr. Craig.
The Cold War plods on
While I was cloistered in graduate school the Cold War continued on through two more trying years. U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers had been shot down over Russia the previous May. While this incident was a great embarrassment for President Eisenhower, previous U-2 Spy Plane photography already provided him sufficient evidence to realize that we were still well ahead of the Russians in military hardware development. Based on this unique intelligence, Ike resisted hard-line Democratic pressure during the presidential campaign of 1960 to significantly increase defense expenditures. Democrats continued to disagree, and Kennedy’s narrow victory over Nixon in the fall was due partly to continued Democratic assertions about a perceived “missile gap.” In his memoirs, The White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956-1961 published in 1965, the now former President Eisenhower continued to hold his view that “We need adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security.”
The loyal opposition also hammered the incumbent administration for not doing enough about Fidel Castro who had been in power since January 1959. Once in office, the Democrats heard the same charges leveled against them by ousted Republicans. Having insisted during his campaign that as President he would take positive action to topple Cuba’s Castro, in April President Kennedy approved the CIA plan to assist an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. The Bay of Pigs fiasco that followed failed hopelessly.
In early 1961, Russia began airlifting supplies to the communist Pathet Lao in Laos. Fearing a potential “domino effect” in Southeast Asia if Laos were to come under communist control, the newly installed Kennedy administration responded with increased U.S. aid to Ngo Dinh Diem’s shaky government in South Vietnam. In early 1962 several thousand U.S. military advisors were sent to Vietnam; they would one day be followed by tens of thousands.
Construction of the Berlin Wall began in August of 1961 and, ending a three year moratorium, Russia resumed atmospheric nuclear weapons tests at about the same time. We resumed testing the following spring.
In the fall of 1961 I became program chairman of the Unitarian Fellowship in Tallahassee. We had no minister and my committee arranged for speakers for our Sunday services. Someone told me of a visiting professor of economics at FSU, here for one year from West Germany. I called her and made an appointment to discuss a possible speaking engagement.
During our talk she suddenly became quite agitated, and, almost in tears, explained what she was feeling. She said she was confused and also angry. She didn’t understand. Why was everything changed? The Second World War was only a dim memory to her; she was just ten when it ended, but as she grew up, the message she heard was that all Germans are beasts, Nazis, war criminals, and every German should feel guilty for their country’s crimes against humanity. But now, suddenly, Germans in Berlin were heroes, bravely forming a bastion of freedom in a sea of communist totalitarianism. She shook her head sadly and rested it in her hands.
I didn’t know what to say. Here was a sad and confused young woman who had grown from an innocent child in a country that went berserk under the rule of mad men. I said nothing, but I can recall thinking “there but for the luck of the draw go I.” This exchange left me with a lot to consider about responsibility and guilt.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam begins to escalate
”Responding to Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and 13th Air Force requests, in 1961 an initial cadre of 23 AWS personnel were deployed to the Republic of Vietnam.” Many more would follow. According to the same source, the golden fleur-de-lis in today’s AWS emblem commemorates the service of some 200-300 Signal Corps weathermen who similarly saw service during war: in France alongside my grandfather Sergeant P. Harry Sharp in 1918.
The Air Force Climatic Center
In May 1962 I received my next assignment, this time to the Air Force Climatic Center in downtown Washington, DC. This unit, the 1210th Weather Squadron, was a unique organization located in Old Providence Hospital, three blocks south of the Library of Congress. This musty old structure had been built during the Civil War, and was now being leased by the government. The main hospital building housed offices from the Department of Commerce. Our offices were in what had been the Nun’s quarters while this Catholic Hospital was in service.
The Climatic Center conducted climatological and other weather studies for various federal government agencies. To mask the presence of military in downtown DC, we were required to wear civilian clothing to work.
I was one of six weather officers sent to the Climatic Center from graduate school that summer to be trained as additional climatologists that AWS needed to meet a growing demand for their work. We would require additional class-work in statistical methods and were enrolled in such classes conducted by the National Weather Service and the Department of Agriculture. Two nights a week the six of us attended classes in various governmental buildings. Captain Dick Brett and his family came up from Tallahassee with us. This was the fifth consecutive assignment for the Bretts and Sharps.
The Clime Center developed briefing manuals for the CIA that described the climates of key areas of the world. I worked on one for Bolivia. One evening at home during dinner I began to describe the unusual climate of this mountainous country when our son Doug, then ten years old, seemed to have a look of disbelief on his face. In earnest I said to him, “No Doug, really!” I had taken his bait; he gave me a wry smile and retorted, “Oh, I Bolivia.” At least he didn’t add “But you can’t Peru-vit by me!” Of course we groaned, and this encouragement may have inspired Doug’s development into the man of words and wit he later became.
The Clime Center also conducted after-the-fact (post-weather) analyses to determine how recent weather was influencing, or had influenced, certain recent critical events. For example, they collected daily rainfall amount data from Khrushchev’s “New Lands,” the semi-arid parts of south-central Russia where wheat was being grown for the first time. Using Thornthwaite’s Trans-vaporation Formula, each spring the Climatic Center briefed the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the soil moisture content of this critical area. Thornthwaite’s algorithm was based on observational data of daily rainfall amounts, average wind speed, temperature and cloud cover, plus soil type. The results were then used by the USDA to predict the coming fall’s wheat crop yield from the New Lands. Important U.S. international economic strategies were based on estimates of future Soviet needs for imported grain.
Droughts are common, almost the norm, in Russia’s New Lands, and the 1963 harvest was particularly poor there as well as in other Soviet farmlands. That October the U.S. sold $250 million worth of surplus American wheat to Russia. The figures we provided allowed the State Department to anticipate this need.
When the Air Force Weather Central moved from Andrews AFB, Maryland in 1957 to merge with SAC’s Global Weather Central, AWS fought hard to keep the Climatic Center, which was a part of this center, in the DC area. They saw the importance of staying geographically close to Air Force Headquarters and other governmental agencies they supported. The New Lands rainfall project is an excellent example of this close support, this time to the USDA, and the State Department. It was a good idea.
Solar forecasting: looking to the future
Soon after we arrived in DC the six climatology trainees were invited to sit in on and observe a conference at Andrews Air Force Base, convened by AWS Commander Brigadier General Norman L. Peterson and his staff. What happened at this conference was propitious. By now, almost five years since Russia’s Sputnik caught the world by surprise, Project Mercury had already launched our first astronaut. In seven more years an American would walk on the moon.
General Peterson and his staff recognized an Air Force requirement that was not being met and a decision was required. To date, no Air Force organization had assumed the responsibility for monitoring the solar environment. Two questions had to be answered:
1. Should AWS assume the responsibility for following solar flares and other phenomenon that interfered with our increasing complex offensive and defensive systems and also posed a threat to our nation’s astronauts?
2. Did General Peterson’s few solar physics experts believe we could even determine what resources would be required to assume this role?
By the end of the conference General Peterson was convinced to “go for the gold.” This subject was out of my realm of expertise, but I listened closely to all the discussions and have often reflected back on this unique opportunity to observe the birth of AWS’s daring venture into this exciting new area of environmental science.
What followed in years to come was AWS’s Space Environmental Support System (SESS) that included a world-wide network of solar and radio observatories plus sufficient solar physicists to properly analyze these data. According to Fuller, “SESS became a multi-million-dollar conglomeration of such exotic gear as magnetometers, riometers, ionosphere sounders, polarimeters, and neutron and proton monitors.” A select few weather officers were deemed qualified and sent to pursue graduate degrees in solar physics at the University of Colorado and other schools prominent in this field. Later, AWS’s efforts were closely coordinated with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) new Space Environmental Laboratory (SEL) in Boulder, Colorado.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
On 14 October 1962 a U-2 spy plane flight over western Cuba revealed that Russian medium-range missiles had been positioned in newly constructed silos there sometime during the summer. It was also learned that more missiles were on their way. Khrushchev had made a long-shot gamble that the U.S. would not react strongly when the missiles were eventually detected. He imagined that since Russia had lived so long with NATO missiles tucked up under Russia’s chin in Turkey, surely we would understand that this was little more than an equalizing of vulnerabilities. Russia claimed that the missiles were purely defensive, to guard against a potential second U.S. backed invasion of Cuba that was still a strong possibility in their minds.
Khrushchev was dead wrong; he didn’t understand either the American Cold War psyche nor American politics. If Kennedy had done nothing, his administration would never have recovered. He would have been labeled as weak – too soft for his role as Commander-in-Chief.
While the world waited nervously on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the Air Force and the CIA – both embarrassed that they hadn’t discovered the missile sites during their construction – asked the Clime Center to perform a post-weather analysis of cloud cover over Cuba during the previous few summer months.
The climatologist trainees were given this job, so we gathered and plotted all the necessary data and discovered that typical summer-time cloudiness over Cuba had made earlier detection impossible. The hilly, even mountainous, area where the launch sites were built had stayed cloud-covered virtually all summer long, and the first clear dry Canada air of fall swept the clouds aside just prior to the October 14th flight. This same clearing occurs about the same time each year.
My house was on a ridge in southeast Washington that provided the family a panoramic view of the city from our front steps. Son Douglass has told me that while sitting on our steps one evening during The Cuban Missile Crisis he had an image in his mind of a large orange ball of fire expanding over the center of the city toward our house. The gravity of the situation did not escape our children. I can recall sitting beside him thinking to myself, “Well, I’ve had a good life.”
Such events during the early 1960s prompted an increased emphasis on Civil Defense. Atomic bomb shelters began to be built across the nation. It was about this time that Tenneco Gas Transmission Company built a pipe-line control center completely under ground near Houston, Texas. I visited this complex after I retired.
When reality gets too grim it is often denied, while somewhere behind the denial we still understand what is real. Jokes are one way that the harshness of reality can be safely acknowledged. I remember a joke I heard when I was less than ten years old, while Hitler’s Germany was rearming to fight for its imagined destiny. The story went that a young German worker was employed in a baby-carriage factory. His wife was pregnant and each evening he smuggled another part of a baby-carriage out of the factory and took it home. When he had finally stolen the last part, the only thing he could assemble out of the parts was a machine-gun.
As we built more and more air raid shelters during the ‘60s, many among us realized what a futile effort this would be if they were ever really needed. From within this emotional quandary we again made jokes. I still recall this riddle which was one:
Question: How do you survive a nuclear bomb explosion?
Answer: Place a chair in the middle of the room and open all of the windows. Sit down, loosen your clothing, bend down and place your head between your legs – and kiss your ass good- bye!
Automating Noah’s Ark
Weather observations are classified SECRET during wartime and cease to flow. AWS continuously prepares for this by computing average values of weather parameters (climatologies) that can be substituted when observations and forecasts become unavailable.
To support SAC’s targeting requirements for a climatological data base over the Sino-Soviet, AWS established project Noah’s Ark and the Clime Center became a key player in this project. With a computer, they would be able to prepare all the data that AWS gathered daily for archival. An AWS detachment, co-located with the National Weather Service’s National Weather Records Center in Asheville, North Carolina, would archive it.
Available also were TOP SECRET weather observations from within the Sino-Soviet. Our national intelligence community routinely intercepted weather observations mixed in with other kinds of intelligence they intercepted. These data were classified to prevent disclosure of the effectiveness of our radio-intercept intelligence gathering network.
A computer could greatly help the Clime Center archive this classified data, and, with the backing of the intelligence community, a proposal for a computer was forwarded to the Pentagon. The proposal won easy approval and in the spring of 1963 an IBM 7040 was selected. Now that the Climatic Center was to receive a brand new computer (one of the only 12,000 or so that existed in the world at that time), it was given a more high-tech sounding name: the U.S. Air Force Environmental Technical Application Center (USAFETAC). Colonel Lewis came up with that name, and he and Captain Norman Phares were eventually able to convince AWS manpower people to approve a staff of, mainly, highly experienced personnel, both commissioned and non-commissioned.
Captain Ken Sleater and I scored high on a computer programming aptitude test and were yanked from our training program to be given permanent assignments at ETAC. This pleased me, for Almira’s and my parental homes in Philadelphia was just 140 miles away, and I had hoped to stay in DC for more than one year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these serendipitous events marked a water-shed in my career. Computers were the vehicle I needed to display previously unknown talents.
Ken and I plus five non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were sent to the IBM training center in DC for a three week course in computer assembly-language programming. Three of the NCOs would work for me and the other two would work for Ken. Sergeants Al Polston and Harry Rice would continue to work with me for the next seven years on two consecutive newly approved computer systems.
Al Polston sat next to me in our programming class and halfway through the course a significant exchange took place between us. We were discussing an assigned problem and had two different slants on how to attack it. I offered my opinion and Al almost snapped back at me, “No!” By this late date I can no longer recall who was right and who was wrong, but I still hold the lasting impression Al’s response made on me. I was never up-tight about rank, so I didn’t feel offended by Al for what could have been viewed as lack of tact (and military courtesy). I think I may have actually smiled when he said it. I already knew that Al was actually quite proper, and always called me Captain Sharp.
From his spontaneous response I realized that I could trust Al in a very important way. After nine years in the Air Force I was finally a supervisor, and I recognized that this fellow would never say “Yes sir” unless he truly agreed with me. Even as a neophyte supervisor, Al’s response instinctively implied loyalty, the kind of loyalty I would come to look for in every succeeding supervisory position. I could talk to Al later about polishing his tact.
While Ken Sleater and his group began automating ETAC’s soil moisture project, my group was to wait to be provided a five-part program package currently being developed by UAC Corporation who had hired some recently discharged weather forecaster lieutenants from SAC’s Global Weather Center at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. This group of young men had been employed as programmers by IBM before going on active duty in the Air Force. While still on active duty, wrote Global’s weather-editing programs. AWS decided to give these same programs to UAC who, for a fee, would have their new employees adapt the programs they wrote for ETAC’s use. While we waited for delivery of this system, Harry, Al and I studied duplicate listings of the code. To gain experience, we also wrote computer programs for Clime Center climatologists and ran them on the National Weather Service’s IBM 7090 at their Suitland, Maryland computer center.
Installation of the 7040 was delayed until the spring of 1964 when we moved into newly renovated space in the previously abandoned Naval Gun Factory in the Navy Annex located along the Anacostia River. Before the manufacture of military weapons systems became a “for-profit” business, the Navy used to build their own large caliber cannons in this building.
The planned automation went well. Captain Norm Phares was transferred to ETAC to manage our computer operations and in mid-1964 we began processing the reels of magnetic tape mailed to us from Global, plus teletype paper-tape mailed from weather editing facilities around the world. 7040s didn’t have floating-point (numbers with decimal points) hardware. The more expensive IBM 7044 had this feature built in, but the need for such a capability was not anticipated and we wound up with the cheaper 7040. Norm Phares modified (“patched”) the IBM system software to give us a software floating point capability. His first attempt had an infinite loop in it, but after correcting this error it worked perfectly and we then had a more powerful machine at no extra cost, except for the additional run-time.
Colonel Lewis planned a grand opening to show off our new toy and family members were invited. While Colonel Lewis met with our families, I was given the task of entertaining all of the small children. With two of my NCOs, I took the children down to the other end of the Navy Yard by bus where they were given a tour of a submarine docked there. As the children were lining up to go down into the sub I said to myself, “Well, they said I’d be the leader of men, but they never told me that I’d also have to lead children.” As I stood there, I noticed my three year old daughter Diane swinging back and forth on a cable that served as a railing. I rushed over to her and picked her up before she let go and landed in the Anacostia River below. Diane was what I called a curtain climber since she was an infant and this behavior was typical of her. She knew no fear.
I had written a few “Kiddies Games” to impress the uninitiated with the speed of these new devices: computers. One of them typed out the message “Begin.” as soon as a child saw the message, he or she hit a sense switch. During the moment or two before the child hit the switch, I had the computer count by ones, and when they hit the switch, the computer typed out the count. It was usually over 1,000. Today’s super-fast personal computers would probably have counted to at least 1,000,000.
Soon after we began normal operations we realized that we were sending a large number of duplicate observations to Asheville for archival. I decided to write a subroutine to eliminate duplicates. The next weekend Almira and I drove to Philadelphia to visit our families. On Saturday afternoon I took Joan and Doug, now ten and twelve, to the Franklin Institute Science Museum in downtown Philadelphia. Rather than tour the exhibits with them (I had done this dozens of time as a child), I dropped them off for a few hours and walked across the street to Logan Square where, under a hot summer sun, I sat on a bench beside the beautiful fountain and wrote a subroutine – DUPLIM. Back in DC the following Monday I assembled the program and tested it. After just a couple of minor corrections the program executed and we implemented it into our system. It contained a program error (a bug) which didn’t show itself until a few days later. During a production run the 7040 halted dead in its tracks. A memory print-out showed me what had happened. I had reserved space for 100 duplicate observations, never dreaming that this number would be too small. We had received over 150 copies of the same observation and my program stuffed them one by one into the buffer space I reserved and when it got the end of the buffer it kept on stuffing. The extra data was written on top of program instructions and the system halted as a result. The 7040 did not have a “memory protect” feature: coding that protects portions of memory from this happening. Sophisticated software such as this appeared well after 1964. A required correction was relatively simple to code. I enlarged the buffer to use all of the remaining memory space available and also included a check to make sure I didn’t exceed that limit.
Within a few months Al Polston and I were able to rewrite all of the original Global/UAC system. The UAC program didn’t know how to decode upper air data, and Harry Rice taught our new program how to do this. Al, Harry, and I weren’t aware at the time, but we were preparing for a larger challenge that lay ahead.
The end of Camelot
President Kennedy was assassinated on the afternoon of the 22nd of November 1963, I was in my friend Captain Tom Potter’s office when I heard the news. All government offices closed early that day (and at the same time) creating a monumental traffic jam; government offices in DC normally quit work on a staggered schedule over a two hour period. I watched four crowded buses pass me by and finally decided to walk home thirty-three blocks down Pennsylvania avenue, across the Sousa Bridge and beyond.
Almira was in a Georgetown Dental School dental chair when she heard the tragic news. Afterwards she had to drive to Andrews AFB to have a prescription filled. By the time she got to down-town Washington, flags were at half-mast and Lyndon Johnson was already our President. As Air Force One landed at Andrews, she was passing through Andrews AFB’s main gate.
A few days later I took my son Doug with me to watch President Kennedy’s funeral procession. We stood on the corner of 18th and H Streets while the entourage of many of the world’s heads of states walked behind Jackie Kennedy on their way to the cathedral. After they passed, Doug and I circled around the east side of the White House, and just as we reached 18th Street again, the funeral procession passed us on its way to Arlington. I knelt down beside Doug and pointed out each dignitary seated in their passing limousines. It was as if the entire United Nations passed by.
We then walked south to the Washington Monument and stood by ourselves on its west side facing Arlington as Air Force One flew over Arlington Cemetery, the Potomac River, me and my son. In uniform, I saluted and wept.
Who do Voodoo
I am one of a handful of people who know the real story behind the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. This story begins in a sixth grade Sunday School class at the Davis Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Southeast Washington DC. Their curriculum that year, “The Church Across the Street,” was intended to give our eleven year olds an opportunity to learn about other World Religions. Son Doug was a member of that class.
On the Sunday morning of November 24, 1963, two days after President Jack Kennedy’s was assassinated, the class studied Voodoo. Following a discussion of the written material, each child was given materials to make their own Voodoo Doll. Long pins to stick into their caricatures of a “bad” person were provided. Predictably, every child in the class named their doll Lee Harvey Oswald, the villain of the moment who had just murdered their president. When class ended and our family left for home, radios and TVs began blaring the news that Oswald had himself just been murdered. And so it would seem that Jack Ruby was merely the tool chosen by Voodoo Loas or deities to carry out the wishes of these children. That day we almost lost Doug to this mysterious religious persuasion.
More of Fred
During one of my visits to the Weather Bureau’s computer center at Suitland I learned that someone there had collected a data base on punch cards of five years worth of sea-level pressure data. Soon after learning this, ETAC received a request for a study that required precisely this data. I went out to Suitland and asked them if we could borrow their data to support an important customer. They agreed to lend it to us, but asked me to promise that we wouldn’t publish their data; they planned to publish at a later date. I gave them my word that we wouldn’t steal their thunder.
My old nemesis Fred had recently been assigned to ETAC and when we first ran into each other on the elevator he made a point of telling me that he had matured a lot since we were together at McClellan. I told him that I was glad to hear that.
Fred worked with me on the sea-level pressure project. Using a sophisticated multiple-correlation program written by Mr. Frank Lewis, a civilian employee at ETAC, Fred would correlate sea-level pressure with various other weather parameters after I pre-processed the data.
Shortly after we completed the project, I got a call from Colonel Lewis to come to his office. When I walked in, Fred was standing beside Colonel Lewis who told me that Fred had just suggested that the sea-level pressure data would make an interesting article for publication and asked what I thought? (I was somehow not surprised by Fred’s duplicity.) I glared at Fred and shook my head No, absolutely not, and told the Colonel about my promise, also adding that Fred already knew this. Colonel Lewis realized what had happened and dropped the subject. He was still the same old Fred.
My good friend Jerry Perren from Alaskan days was sent to Vietnam in 1966, and after he returned told me about Fred’s final Air Force caper. Fred’s name showed up on a list of future arrivals in Saigon and Jerry made bets that Fred would never come to Vietnam. Jerry won his bets for Fred never left the country. Instead, he was discharged from the Air Force for a reason that none of us ever heard. We wished him well.
The project that Fred and I worked on was typical of the kind of work that ETAC’s climatologist were asked to do. All requests for air-conditioning a building on an Air Force installation had to be approved by ETAC before work began.
Another project was a study requested by the Air Force’s Air Defense Command. They were planning to construct a radar site on top of a mountain close to the Oregon coast and needed to know the maximum wind velocity to expect. How strong must the structure be to survive a given number of years? To play it safe, they could have built their site strong enough to survive a nuclear bomb blast, but that would not be cost-effective. ETAC’s figures gave them the necessary guidance to design a sensibly secure structure.
ETAC’s problem was that there was no climatological record of wind velocities for this location. The numbers must be estimated by extrapolation from the nearest weather observation sites, all of which were at much lower elevations. Weather records from National Weather Service observing sites at Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, and other mountainous locations made it clear that surface winds on mountain tops are much stronger than low-lying places. This, of course, is intuitively obvious, but then there is the question, How much stronger? This is where their professional expertise came into play. Much depends on these decisions which are – necessarily – educated guesses. No other options were available at the time.
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