The definition of disaster

Earlier this week, I posted about the devastation that hit to the west of us. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

1) It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t we ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple. Look at the calendar. It was the first week of October. And although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

2) Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for…in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home, and do so safely, in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

3) OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. And it’s simple science. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy, many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. (Below you’ll find a video I did a few years ago, when I went out to check cows after a blizzard…you can see how they gather.)

Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. And when the wind is blowing like it did, it creates very dangerous drifts. If the cattle gathered in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: We deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather…it had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch, I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.



23 thoughts on “The definition of disaster

  1. Storms like this leave an economic impact for years; and not just for the ranchers. Our cattle numbers have been falling for several years; when supply decreases, prices increase.

    • You are right, Sheila…we won’t truly know the numbers behind this storm until years from now. But we cannot change the past, so we must look to the future. My hope is that we rally enough to keep the losses to a minimum…it’s all we can ask for.

  2. I’m so sorry this storm caused so much devastation! And, I understand your comments; makes sense! It’s too bad you even have to deal with such negativity, or maybe it’s partly those seeking understanding. You do a great job of communicating. Praying this winter will not be so harsh for farmers.

    • The negativity comes with the territory, but I did want to address those that have the desire to understand. Winter is part of the beauty of living where we do…and when prepared, we can handle just about any storm that comes our way. Thank you for the prayers, our country as a whole needs them.

      • Also you should know that this area has unusually warm weather. September 30th, it was 90 degrees in this area, and this fall has been unusually warm like mid to upper 80s since the middle of August, even pushing 100 a time or to. This affected the cattle not growing their winter hair as they normally would, and another contributing factor would be the 5.5 inches of rain prior to the snow starting and 70 mph winds.

  3. Our ranch was on the “ice” side of the storm. 3″ of rain from Thursday evening to Fridaypm at 3:30 when it change to sleet. 50+mph winds all day Friday and Friday night and into Saturday when it finally changed to snow. Most of the losses in my immediate area were from hypothermia and being trampled in the mud. Losses were both in and out of shelter as a friend had his in the corral and still had high casualties. In my own herd, I had my calves already weaned for 2 weeks and didn’t lose any in the storm, but have lost 2 since and have doctored about 10% so far. Raining with high winds again today so I imagine that number will increase in the next 10 days as more contract pneumonia. Oh, well, comes with the job.

    • My prayers are with you…and I know that the losses will continue to mount. You’re right, it does come with the job, but there comes a time when we must rally around those impacted and help them through it. Good luck, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.

  4. Val, this is one of the best explanations I’ve seen about why the livestock were so impacted by this storm as compared to others. Thanks for sharing the information.

  5. I know what it is like to be where you all are. I was there for many years in South Dakota. I finally moved east.. Glad i did. I am sorry for all the loss most of you have had this year already with the first bad snow stoorm. I also turn to the reservations as they also have big losses. Its a means of giving back to the land and helping when help is needed. I do hope that each oif you have set aside a little for the Reservations in the way of help as well. Fuel, food and water are most needed alo0ng witth blankets and other forms of heat. Even help when the snow is high and they cant get where they need.. DON”T get upset with me. Im only saying WE all need to heelp each other since the Goverment is not doing what is supposed to be done by them. God is here with us all.WE are all children of God. Good luck to all of you the rest of this winter coming on us. Hope it will be calmer then the first one. God Bless you all . Animals included.

  6. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for giving such a wonderful explanation!!!! The people who went through this disaster appreciate the efforts of those who know and support them!

  7. one of the factors for the animals not being able to take the storm was the lack of winter hair, as it was so early and the weather had been fairly warm before. Just imagine trying to stay out for awhile in a blizzard with out proper winter gear on.

  8. Our hearts go out to all the ranchers, this has to be very hard to see something you work with everyday and our attached to, to be taken away in such a way! Simply horrible! I have cousins near milesville, SD who ranch and understand completely the many, many, miles of pasture land you have to cover to collect the herds, not a simple task in any way. The wind alone can take your breath away in this weather let alone the so many inches of snow an hour. Animals will walk to find cover and in times like this one,fences don’t always hold the force of a herd,they may stay for hours and miles and finally give in to fatique suffocate , very sad but true.

    • It’s a risk that comes with the territory. I’m praying that those affected will be able to rally and keep moving forward, but I’m afraid we may lose even more farmers and ranchers due to this storm.

  9. Can you tell me, did the meteorologists drop the ball on this? Was there any warning that it would be this bad? I watch the weather channel a lot and they almost never talk about the west much less the less populous parts of the west…most of which are completely disregarded. Was there ample warning that Atlas was coming? Was it predicted to be as bad as it was? I have not seen this question addressed anywhere.

    • The storm was predicted, but not nearly at this level. The warnings I saw included a possibility of up-to 6 inches of snow, and the totals came in from 26 inches to 58 inches. Just to give you a little insight, 58 inches of snow is equivalent to about 6.5 inches of water.

      Another major factor was wind. The wind speeds were recorded at a sustained 44 mph, with gusts more than 70 mph.

      Again, the fact that it snowed in October wasn’t what caught so many off-guard. As other commenters have mentioned, we’ve had some pretty crazy weather, and the days before we saw highs in the 80’s and higher. To think that another day would bring a blizzard of this proportion? Almost laughable…almost.

      Thank you for asking the question, and please, if you have any others, feel free to ask.

  10. What a wonderful description of what really occurs on a working farm. I really don’t think that people outside of the farming community really realize exactly what all this line of work entails. North Dakota weather only makes it that much more challenging because it can be so extreme. Thank you for sharing this.
    From one who will always consider North Dakota home.

  11. Pingback: An apology…of sorts | Wag'n Tales

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