Cold Fronts

by Jack Sharp

Epilogue: Reflecting Back and Looking Ahead


Changes in the science of meteorological

As I recounted, my meteorological career began at a propitious time: 1954, the same year that computer Numerical Weather Prediction Modeling began. Forty-two years later I can see the effects this giant step for mankind has had on forecast accuracy. Five days before it struck, the Blizzard of ‘93 along the east coast was anticipated by our latest, more accurate mathematical models. Such an accurate five-day look-ahead was unthinkable in 1954.

Satellite imagery and Doppler radar have allowed forecasters to provide warnings of approaching Hurricanes and Tornadoes that now save many more lives than are lost.

We have tinkered with weather modification and from our experiences learned humility – there are severe limits on how much we can control the atmosphere. During this same period, computer and TV graphics have enabled us to better appreciate the beauty of cloud patterns sketched upon the pallet of Earth’s atmosphere.

During my first three years as a base weather station forecaster I practiced “seat of the pants” (subjective) forecasting. It’s different now. To be effective today, practitioners must watch each computer model carefully and learn the strengths and weaknesses of this “guidance.” No model can ever be perfect, so the challenge will forever be to learn when to bet against the many models now available that are in their present state so dramatically reliable. This is a major challenge.

All of these advances in the science of meteorology are by now taken for granted. Such is life!


The family

How did the rest of my family fare after their twenty-one years of following husband and father to so many different places? They seem to have fared well. While Almira and I were greatly relieved when we no longer had to give our house plants away every two or three years, but could now keep them forever, we have no regrets about those nine times we packed up and moved.

Our four children also flourished from their experiences. Doug and Joan both met their future spouses while we were living in England. Doug and his wife Inga and Granddaughter Margaret now live in Seattle where Doug works for Microsoft and Inga teaches English as a second language. Joan and her minister husband Rob plus their sons Adam and Joshua pastored a church close to our home in Pennsylvania for the past ten years, and have recently moved to Texas. Their other son, Stuart Miguel Rubio, is now a Cadet in his third year at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I began writing this book soon after he finished his summer of indoctrination there.

Son John is single right now and also lives in our area where he works for EDS Corporation. His two step-daughters and step-son live in Iowa. Jennifer is on a full scholarship at Iowa State University, while Julie is running long-distance races for her high school in Red Oak and Zachary now in high school. Our youngest child Diane, fourteen when her Daddy retired, and husband John and their sons Miles and Douglass are currently on an assignment in Mexico City.

We remain a close family and have plenty of stories to share and reflect upon about our times together in Alaska, England, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, California, Washington State, and Nebraska.

As one might guess, I am proud of Stuart and applaud his decision to follow his Grandfather and Great-Great Grandfather into the Air Force. For the first twenty years of my retirement, memories of my Air Force career faded more than I had realized. Stuart’s decision to enter the Air Force Academy gave me renewed pride in the unique contributions made by Thor’s Legions, a few of which I have described here. Too, it gave me the opportunity to refresh many fond memories that helped inspire me to write this account.

I read with interest the essay Stuart included in his application to Representative James Greenwood of the 8th Congressional District of Pennsylvania for admission to the Academy. His motives for applying for admission were from his generation, just as mine were the product of my times. I am intrigued with the differences. Nothing stays the same.

As for myself, I spent fifteen more years after my Air Force retirement in the work force before permanently retiring in 1988. My priorities were to not work for the government and also to stay in Omaha, and spent twelve years working for a large natural gas pipe-line company, first as a scientific analyst, and later as their corporate meteorologist.

Why did this company require a meteorologist on their staff? I’ve heard that question often, the first time from Mom. When I gave them a reliable five-day forecast of wind and temperatures across their market area, I was, in effect, providing them with an accurate forecast of their gas sales over the same period. My forecasts helped them determine how much gas to move from their gas fields to their market area. This was a fun job.

When this company merged with another natural gas company in late 1985 they offered me an early retirement that included a golden handshake. I accepted, but not before offering to provide their weather forecasts from a company I would form. They accepted my offer and after just a year and a half of owning Vortex Weather, Inc., I and my partner Ross Ellis, a retired Air Force NCO weather forecaster who had worked for me at Global, were approached by the NBC affiliate in Omaha and asked to sell them our company. We agreed, and Vortex Weather Central soon became a household word in Omaha. It was fun for me to see large billboards advertising the Vortex Weather central. I smiled to myself every time I saw a city bus with a large advertising placard on its side.

Vortex forecasters (active duty Air Force forecasters from Offutt, each with more than a decade of experience) provided reliable forecasts to the on-air weather broadcasters. This too was enjoyable work, but in mid-1988 I retired permanently, and Almira and I returned to Pennsylvania to be with our aging parents and the rest of our extended family.

So from 1953 until 1988 I worked in four different parts of the weather forecasting industry: the military, private industry, a weather forecast consulting company, and TV. The only part I missed was the National Weather Service.


The Cold War

Except for Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War was a spending war, not a shooting war. Considering the consequences of waging nuclear warfare that any sane person still hopes the world will never experience, this is a happy fact. But because of what this conflict really was, the United States of America was bound to win. Our economic might, as reflected in our Gross National Product (GNP) was, and still is, unparalleled on Earth. Just as our awesome industrial might assured victory in WW II, our mammoth economy could not possibly have lost a spending war, especially when pitted against the Soviet economy, based as it was on its grand illusion, Communism, propped up by one of the world’s harshest totalitarian systems.

I never feared Communism per se, instead I thought it simply unworkable. True, it has worked for short periods in small enclaves, but it goes against all of our basic human drives, so it was no real surprise to me that the system finally crashed under the weight of its discontented citizenry.

Since 1968 I noted the trend toward moderation in the Soviet’s responses to calls for freedom and independence within the Communist Bloc from Budapest, Hungary, in 1956, to Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1968, to Gdansk, Poland, in 1980 and beyond, and took particular note when no tanks rolled in Warsaw, Gdansk, or any other Polish city. I was encouraged more than I can say about what I perceived. I thought to myself “What Polish Joke?,” and I can tell you that I have never repeated another Polish ethnic joke since “Solidarity.”

The risks these brave people took were large when one reflects on the long history of harsh treatment of dissidents by the Soviets. Imre Nagy of Hungary was executed for his efforts in 1956. Twelve years later Alexander Dubcek was dethroned but unharmed for his role in “Prague Summer,” but the principal leader of Poland’s Solidarity Movement Lech Walesa not only succeeded in winning his country’s freedom from the Communist yoke, but became Poland’s first democratically elected president. There was a unmistakable trend over the intervening twenty five or so years between Budapest and Gdansk of easing pressure from above.

I have to admit that in spite of my perception of this trend, I was still surprised at the speed with which the entire system collapsed. I must also say that it confirmed a concept I was taught by an excellent history teacher at Germantown High School, Miss Hoops. I can still remember that after studying the American and French Revolutions, she summarized these events with the observation that “There’s no such thing as a little freedom. This condition never lasts long before it swings wildly in one direction or the other.”

Unlike what happened in Poland, in Tianamen Square, where pressure by the Chinese Communist regime resurged, conditions reverted back to their former self and the genie was put back in the bottle.

Years later, with the birth of the Science of Chaos, I found an explanation for the irrepressible tendency of humanity to seek freedom. The concept of Chaos intrigued me the moment I heard its name. The atmosphere and humanity are both prime examples of chaotic systems. I have studied the one extensively and am an element within the other.

Chaotic systems (complex systems) are composed of extremely large numbers of discrete interactive parts. Gases, liquids, and populations fit this brief definition. Human beings and fluid molecules can be forced to conform. Under pressure and where extreme control measures are applied, both fluid motion and human behavior can be controlled in the larger sense. Industry relies heavily on hydraulic control systems. Being predictable, they are useful. So too, under the threat of death or enslavement, humans will conform rather than die: go with the flow. But the pressure to conform must remain constant and intense.

In the case of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the tiniest leak occurred around a frozen O-ring, and that's all that was needed for the gaseous propellant to escape from its controlled environment and revert to type: a chaotic system. A giant explosion occurred which quickly returned these gases to the chaos from which they were gathered.

So too within the Communist Bloc, the pressure to conform began to lessen dramatically beginning with the response, or more accurately the lack of response, to the Solidarity movement. Ultimately there was insufficient pressure to sustain the forced conformity, and the resulting break up of the Soviet with its captured satellites became inevitable. Initially there has been a return to something similar to the chaos that sponsored the birth of communism and fascism in the first place. The dust scattered during the breakup of the Soviet Bloc will take decades to settle.

During these trying times, fear drove both blocs to ignore President Eisenhower’s warnings about the power of a Military-Industrial Complex, ignored also is his “Cross of Iron” speech in which he said:


  • “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies -– in the final sense – a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity dangling from a Cross of Iron.”
  • A debate over how much spending was really required to “win” the Cold War will probably go on forever. By 1989, the Russian economy as well as all other economies in the Eastern Block were in shambles and their environments polluted beyond imagination. Our own economy was also in crisis. One result of the Cold War is that we have become the world’s largest debtor nation and our present struggle with carrying a national debt of nearly five trillion dollars will continue for some time.


    A Spanish proverb reads:


  • “Take from life what you wish, said God, but be willing to pay for it.”
  • We made our choices, unfortunately based mainly on fear, and so we must now be willing to pay for these choices. At the same time we must hopefully now learn to better defend ourselves from the counsel of the over-frightened who will probably never agree that our military is strong enough. This will be a challenge, because of the economic power of vested interests who will strongly oppose any changes in our military budget.

    While watching the news one evening soon after the Berlin Wall fell, I was struck by a particular sound-bite. The speaker, a Russian academician teaching then at a New England college, was asked whether he thought Russia would cut its military budget. He smiled and answered that it would be difficult, for, like the U.S., Russia still had its own powerful Military-Industrial Complex. This was the first time I ever heard this term applied to what had been happening inside Russia. For all of those years our two great people were mirror images, both driven by the same force, the most powerful on earth: fear, and Fear is the mind slayer.




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