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Long Time State Climatologist Retires

Agribusiness Reporter David Geiger sits down in a Q&A with State Climatologist Harry Hillaker to talk about the 30 years he has worked with Iowa weather. Hillaker is retiring by the end of March of 2018 after officially getting the position in 1988.

David Geiger: "Now, Harry, this is kind of a bittersweet because you are retiring, and my very first question here is, what has made you stay for this period of time at the State Climatology office."

Harry Hillaker: "Well, basically, I have to admit I've always loved the weather, even since I was a little kid. So it's like getting paid to do something you like. And also always been very much involved with like numbers, statistics and obviously that fits right in with the job as well. So, it's kind of an ideal situation there. So, the weather's always fascinating, it's always changing, so it keeps you busy and it and basically a very enjoyable job to have over all these years."

David Geiger: "Now, you are the longest serving state climatologist in the nation, what have you seen change over the last 30 years that you've been here?"

Harry Hillaker: "Certainly a lot of technology changes, especially with internet coming along, more and more computer resources over the years. When I first came to the office, it was actually prior to being state climatologist I worked for Paul Waite, who had been the long time climatologist back to the 1950s, till he retired. And when I first came here, we didn't have a computer at all. And I still remember when we got the first PC in the office, it was like, 'This is a really big deal.' It cost a fortune to get, but it was really lucky to have that kind of equipment but it had a 10 Mb hard drive and a 250 Kb memory. And it was top of the line. It was really kind of exciting. And so now that's extremely permeative. So that kind of emphasizes how things have changed in that regard over the years."

David Geiger: "What have you seen, in your time here, in Iowa weather, that you would think is important or notable for Iowans to know about?"

Harry Hillaker: "Well, obviously, all kind of things, lots of events. First one, was my very first year as State Climatologist in 1988, of course we had a major drought. Probably the worst drought Iowa had seen since the 1930s. So, it was kind of a baptism by fire to be in the position that summer. And then of course the floods of '93, would have been a big one as well. Cedar Rapids, Cedar River flooded 2008, another big event. And set a few state records mixed in there. Lowest temperature, 47 below zero, 1996, up in Elkader in Northeast, Iowa. Record rainfall, 1998, in Atlantic over 13 inches of rainfall in one day. All kinds of things. I guess as far as, you might see more notable trends, just a general tendency to get more rainfall over the state, over the last, trend actually began in the 50s, but it's been continuing since then, especially wetter springs, wetter summers, not so much fall or winter but quite a bit of a wetter trend for the spring and summer season. But I guess, change being the kind of key thing, it's always changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse."

David Geiger: "Harry, I know I for one will miss talking to you every couple weeks about Iowa weather during summer and during the harvest season. So, thank you so much for what you've done over the last 30 years."

Harry Hillaker: "Oh, you're very welcome. It's going to be strange to be away from all of this. Been in the office almost 37 years. It's going to be odd, sometimes I think I'm crazy to leave it, but I think I'm ready for a change. And also looking forward to having a new State Climatologist to hopefully have new talents, and more tech savvy than I am. So, I think that would help the office out."