Iowa Public Television


Blizzard Slams Western Plains

posted on October 11, 2013

Last month, the Agriculture Department increased its U.S. corn production estimates to a record 13.8 billion bushels.  That’s up more than 5 percent from the previous all-time high recorded in 2009, and, if realized, it reflects nearly a 30 percent increase from last year. 

Updated harvest estimates were to have been released Friday, but as noted previously, the federal shutdown has forced USDA to suspend all reports.

While Washington is locked in yet another spell of temporary paralysis, farmers are busy harvesting their crops.  While corn-producing powerhouses like Iowa are expected to tally reduced yields this year, early reports are mostly positive.  And record production is likely in some southern states and portions of the eastern Corn Belt. 

Weather forecasts call for a favorable harvest window in much of the Midwest though the weekend, before cooler temperatures and rainfall return next week.  Whether that proves to be the case remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful any place in America will experience anything close to the conditions in South Dakota late last week.

Blizzard Slams Western Plains

A rare autumn blizzard paralyzed much of western plains late last week. The storm dumped as much as 4 feet of snow, left thousands without power and killed nearly 100,000 cattle.

At least four deaths were attributed to the powerful weather system which also spawned destructive tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa.

In Wall, South Dakota the whiteout conditions lasted for several hours, leaving behind a major mess. I-90 was shutdown as some portions of the road were covered by 6 to 12 feet of snow. Heavy equipment was needed to reopen roads. Travel was not advised as the clean up took priority all across the Black Hills region. Drifts made vehicles look like toy cars, packing snow around parking lots. The only way to get around after the snow stopped was on foot, and even that was a challenge.

Parts of western South Dakota were blanketed by more than 48 inches of snow and a mid-week warm up revealed some of the devastation. The South Dakota Civil Air Patrol took these pictures this week of some of the dead animals.

Cattle ranchers were busy this week counting their losses. According to the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association some ranchers lost 20 to 50 percent of their herds and one estimate suggested at least 5 percent of the state’s cattle were killed.

Calves close to being sold were counted among the casualties, as was breeding stock.

Box Elder, South Dakota rancher Monty Williams spent much of the week searching for his herd and cleaning up animals killed in the storm.

Monty Williams, South Dakota Rancher: "A lot of guys were losing everything - cows, calves, you name it."

Some cattle that survived the storm were found to have drifted miles away from home.

South Dakota State University Extension beef specialist Ken Olson: “One rather morbid story was that they could simply find their cattle by following the trail of dead carcasses. It's devastating. I've had some tearful conversations. They're having a hard time. Some of them know that it's going to put them out of business. It's very hard."

In some cases, entire herds were huddled in  open pastures and ravines trying to stay warm.

Mike McIntyre, Sioux Falls, SD Veterinarian: "The worst thing is we had two inches of rain followed by three feet of snow afterwards, so not only was the ground wet, the cattle sunk into it.  Many of them actually drowned as the snow came over top, literally started burying them and crushing them and pushing them down into the wet soil underneath there."

The South Dakota Cattlemen, Stockgrowers and Sheep Growers Associations have established a Rancher Relief Fund to provide support and assistance to those impacted by the storm.

Ranchers and officials said the losses were aggravated by the fact that a government disaster program to help ranchers recover from livestock losses has expired. But, producers won't be able to get federal help until Congress passes a new farm bill.

Tags: blizzard cattle news rancher snow South Dakota weather weather and climate