Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Harry Hillaker, the weather and Lucas County

Iowans talk about weather all the time --- and so does our state climatologist, Harry Hillaker. So Monday evening's annual meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society was a perfect match.

Besides, most Iowans think of Hillaker as a neighbor. He is affable, informative, entertaining and accessible --- the go-to guy for media types whenever weather-related stores arise. He's in the news a lot.

We were lucky enough to have the entire Hillaker family with us at Pin Oak Lodge Monday after board member Frank Mitchell had taken the seven of them out to supper. When this speaking engagement was arranged months ago, Harry knew that his U.S. Marine son would be home on leave before a new deployment, but wasn't quite sure when.

As it turned out, the first day of that leave was spent with us. After pie and coffee, the Hillakers piled into their vehicle and drove on toward Fort Worth, Texas, where Harry grew up and his mother still lives.

How many know, by the way, that Hillaker's late father, Harry J. Hillaker Sr., is the father of the F-16 fighter jet? As a senior engineer at General Dynamics' Fort Worth aircraft plant in the 1960s, the senior Hillaker led the design team that developed the F-16.

Since Harry Sr. is known as the father of the F-16, Harry Jr. tells us, that jet must be his brother.

Hillaker also brought with him a variety of information about weather records in Lucas County. Did you know, for example, that 2010 --- when 59.45 inches of precipitation fell --- was our wettest year (since record-keeping here began consistently in 1895); and 1910, when only 13.77 inches of precipitation fell, the dryest?

The trick question of the evening --- is annual snowfall on the decline in the south of Iowa? A show of hands incidated that most thought "yes." A look at the records shows, however, that we're actually experiencing about the long-term average. Many of us just remember near-record snowfall years in the 1960s and 1970s and use those memories for comparison.

Hillaker is officially neither a global warming alarmist, nor a naysayer. Man-made changes to the landscape (destruction of Iowa's prairie, for example, and rainforests elsewhere) certainly affect climate and what we call greenhouse gasses are an issue, too, Hillaker said. The long-term effects are the topics of hot debate within the climatological community as elsewhere, he added. In the end, the data will tell the story.

We really did have a great time Monday night. Pin Oak, where the emphasis is on natural history, is the perfect venue for our annual meetings; Hillaker was a lively and informative speaker; and the pie served to all comers afterwards was great (I had gooseberry).

Warren Wallace retired this year after 15 years on the board and Cliff Brewer, after three. We elected Kay Brown and Joe Sellers to replace them along with incumbents Ron Christensen and Bill Marner. I was returned for an encore as president as were Adam Bahr, vice-president; Steve Laing, treasurer; and Lucinda Burkhalter, secretary.

Harry Hillaker and Lucinda Burkhalter look on as Loren Burkhalter (left) and Bill Marner talk about --- the weather.

1 comment:

Tim Kenyon said...

I always liked Harry, he's a good guy who you could count on for a quick quote or some absurd weather trend.