"Thank you for your service"

On this Veterans Day, I once again have to confront the gulf between combat zone military veterans and those who have never served in a combat zone. Being in the military means that you've accepted the status of being willing to sacrifice anything and everything, including your physical and mental health, right up to and including losing your life. You've given your nation a signed blank check and they can write in the amount.  For those veterans serving in combat zones, and especially those who actually participated in combat, it's difficult to try to communicate their experiences to those who haven't so served. I've described my experiences here.

On one day per year, we see lots of messages of gratitude to our veterans, and that's nice, but what about the other 364 days? What are we doing to provide help to veterans who have returned from combat and been struggling to cope with their endless nightmares? No one who participated in combat ever returns to become the same person they were before. I was extremely fortunate - it only took me a year or so to return to something close to my former self after leaving the military, but even then, I was forever changed by my military experiences.  Some of those changes in my life were positive, and some were negative.  I was blessed with good fortune, for no obvious reason.  It could have turned out very differently.

I really do value the sentiments expressed by those who offer gratitude for my time in service, but I'm concerned for those veterans who need so much more than words from their nation. Our nation should show their gratitude in their actions as well as mere words, when it comes to our combat veterans. Some of our veterans reach a time when they just can't deal with their devils created by the horrible things they've experienced - too many suicides, broken families, homeless vets, drug addictions, etc. I feel unworthy of gratitude for my time in the military, when I think about those who have suffered so much and been unable to find any peace in their minds.  And this says nothing about those who have had life-changing physical injuries to try to overcome.

We ask young people to serve and protect our freedoms, but we sometimes send them to fight in unwinnable wars on foreign soil for no good reason. Vietnam was such a war, and our so-called "war on terrorism" is another example.  How do you win a war against a tactic?  How do you define what is a "win" in such a war?  We had a similar problem in Vietnam - it was a war against an economic and political ideology in a far away land.  We never found a meaningful exit strategy in Vietnam, so we just left and all that followed showed that our involvement in Vietnam was pointless.  Millions died for nothing.  The young men and women serving in combat have to make hard choices about what to do in hostile circumstance and, if they choose incorrectly, we punish them harshly. We're getting better about trying to help veterans with PTSD and such, but we still have a long way to go.

Don't ever thank veterans for their service but then turn around and ask someone else to risk everything without a damned good reason!  Don't be so eager to support military actions to back up political positions.  Don't send our young men and women into combat and then oppose aid for those who manage to survive.  I saw somewhere that about 9,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since they returned - they actually died in Vietnam.  I think their names should be added to the wall at the National Vietnam Memorial as combat fatalities.  They're not on that wall only because their injuries required more time to take their lives.  That raises the Vietnam toll of American combat deaths from 58,000 to 67,000.

A Turbulent Landing at Sea-Tac Airport on Wednesday Evening

On Wednesday night, I was returning home from giving talks at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma.   I was on American Airlines Flight 1295 from Dallas-Fort Worth and was descending through roughly 20,000 ft over the Cascades (around 5 PM) when the flight started getting rough (the flight path is shown below, courtesy of the FlightAware website).   We descended to a few thousand feet just east of Sea-Tac (SEA) and turned north, the plane still shaking a bit. But by the time we got north of Boeing Field the flight smoothed out and remained smooth as we made the turn southward towards the airport.

And then, south of downtown, the plane hit turbulence again, and as we approached  the airport, the winds were tipping us up and down, and as we landed I was a bit worried a wing might hit the runway or that we would be blown off the runway.  I was slammed into my neighbor in the next seat (who was pretty much inebriated after drinking double shots during much of the flight).

The pattern of the turbulence was familiar to me and probably to most seasoned travelers into Sea Tac, and is one associated with strong easterly flow moving through and downstream of a gap in the Cascades, known as the Stampede Gap.

We can start by looking at the winds at Sea-Tac that night, displayed as a time-height cross section, with time increasing to the left and height increasing in the y-direction (heights given in pressure, 850 is about 5000 ft).  09/00 is 4 PM on Wednesday.   Very strong easterly flow (sustained winds of 30 knots) is found at low levels, centered around 950 hPa (about 1500 ft).

Such strong easterly flow tends to be turbulent, with large vertical wind shear at low levels, which contributes further to the turbulent flow.

Next, let's look at the pattern at the surface at around 5 PM (below), where easterly flow from Seattle southward is evident.

The UW WRF model did a nice job in simulating this flow, with a small timing error.  Here is the WRF high-res forecast for 7 PM (started 15 h before)....you can see the current of strong southeasterly flow coming in south of Seattle.

Why the strong easterly flow?  Because as a low center approached offshore, a strong east-west pressure difference formed over the Cascades, which accelerated air to the east from high to low pressure.

The air  preferentially moves westward through the lower areas of the Cascades, the largest being Stampede Gap, between Mt. Rainier and Snoqualmie Pass (see topo map).   My plane descended into the strong easterly flow in Stampede Gap, which produces a lot of turbulence wave-like activity as it interacts with the terrain.

Finally, pilots often report interesting weather while in flight using PIREPS (pilot reports).    Turbulence extended to Boeing Field, where a pilot reported low-level wind shear (LLWS) from the surface to 900 ft at 5:26 PM


And turbulence (LGT/MOD CHOP) was experienced by a pilot landing at SEA TAC.


Big Snow Coming to the Cascades

This should have been posted on Wednesday....

The jet stream is now directed south of Washington State, with the heaviest precipitation going south of us into northern California and southern Oregon (see upper level map at 10 AM today).  Winds are parallel to the height lines, with speed proportion to the gradient (or rate of change with distance) of the height lines.

The 72hr total precipitation for the period ending 4 AM Saturday is impressive, with some areas of northern CA getting 5-10 inches (see below).   Reservoirs in northern CA will begin refilling now, with some like Shasta starting well above normal (Shasta is at 117%).

The jet will remain south of us for a few days.

 But by Saturday, with a deep trough developing offshore, the jet stream and associated flow with be heading right into our region.

 And will continue into our area into next week (see Tuesday night at 10 PM).

As a result, precipitation will substantially increase.   The 72hr total ending 4 AM Wednesday is particularly impressive, with 5-10 inches of precipitable water over the higher terrain of the Olympics and Cascades.

 With sufficiently cool air over us, this means lots of snow, with 2-3 feet being widespread above roughly 4000 ft.  Translation: with the base with have currently, many of the Cascade ski areas will have sufficient snow to open by the middle of next week.