Christmas Day blizzard leaves thousands without power
December 29, 2016
Santa and his reindeer had to battle their way through rough weather conditions in the midwest Christmas day and into the next day. Weather in the Tri-State area was extreme and producers experienced the gamut of precipitation.
Eastern Nebraska was covered not in snow, but double rainbows Dec. 25 while most surrounding states and western Nebraska experienced blowing winds, heavy snow- or rainfall. Many through the Tri-State Livestock News area were without power.
White Lake, South Dakota
Josh Mohnen, owner of Mohnen Angus, described the weather as "up and down."
“Christmas morning, it was raining on us and lighting and thunder come through. It was about 32 or 33 degrees. The rain and fog that morning actually knocked some ice off the power lines, so people who didn’t have power Christmas morning, we were actually able to get them back on before the storm hit. When the storm hit, we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us. There were 50 to 60 mph wind gusts. That lasted for 10 to 12 hours. It got bad enough that we sent crews up and at 10:30 that night, we pulled them. It’s not worth someone getting stuck and being there overnight.”Seth Geigle, Murdo, South Dakota, electric worker
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"We had a nice November then it turned miserably cold down to 30 to 40 below, then was nice again a for few days," he said, "We had a bunch of rain this last week, so everything is an iced-up mess. I'm guessing we got between an inch to inch-and-a-half. It thundered and poured for quite a while."
There was no snow Sunday, though there was some earlier this month. There were also no power outages, but trees had broken off in the wind, as well as a few broken poles.
"We started calving, so we've been watching a lot. We feed them well and keep most of the younger animals and calving cows and bulls bedded," Mohnen said. "There's nothing much you can do, just try to get out more bedding, but everything is soaked up so much."
Mohnen also welcomes the moisture but not in this form or magnitude.
"I hate to turn moisture down. In this area, we need rain right now, but there are a lot of lakes of water where cattle can get stranded by getting sprawled out," he said. "I'm hoping some water and ice goes away, but I don't know how it can. I would rather see snow than rain, at least you can push the snow away. Our dugouts were two-thirds empty, so with extra water in the creeks, once we get a nice melt it will fill some of those up or at least put some water in them. I'm sure it will benefit somewhere down the line. We'll have a lot of grass when we turn cows out this spring."
New Salem, North Dakota
Thirty miles west of Bismarck, David Doll operates Doll Charolais Ranch and Simmentals, a purebred seedstock operation. Doll said the grand total with this last storm is 45 to 50 inches of snow for the year.
"After our first snow storm, the ditches have been level full, roads are being blocked, corrals are full of snow; it's been a challenge to say the least," he said. "The first storm came out of north/northwest and that wasn't bad, but the last storm that came Sunday came out of east/northeast. Any corrals that weren't filled up in corners, they got it this time."
Doll said they never lost power over the weekend, but many around them have been without.
"There's been a joke around here that we're making up for the last three nice winters. It's been a mixed blessing. We needed moisture since we've got quite a few dugouts and stock dams and a couple did go dry and we've had problems with high nitrates. We're thankful for the moisture, but it's kind of a pain in the butt to deal with moisture right now," he said.
Doll prepared his cattle for the onslaught of snow Christmas Day.
"For the most part, cows get wintered either a mile or two from the yard, and we do have windbreaks there. The flax bale windbreaks are set up for a north/northwest wind, so the east storm was hard on cattle, but knowing that storm was coming in, we did feed extra the day before, and they came through just fine. It was hard on them but they're pretty hardy. We haven't had serious health issues; the main thing is to fill them the day before or 12 hours before so they have the energy to pull through, then trying to get bedding back down to keep them clean and dry."
With no sign of snow and a 50 degree temperatures, Mikala Renee Phillips snapped a photo of double rainbows gracing the sky. She said it rained all morning, cleared up for a bit, then the wind started howling through the eventing. She wasn't aware of any power outages. Phillips lives in Humphrey, Nebraska, but was celebrating Christmas with family in Tarnov.
Murdo, South Dakota
Seth Geigle works for West Central Electric Cooperative in Murdo. He started as a lineman and has since worked his way up in the country. He and many other lineman left their families during the holiday to right downed lines and restore power. Some are still without, despite great efforts from linemen.
"What we usually do in first part is try to assess what we have for damages. A lot of that goes into taking phone calls and relying on locals to call in where downed lines are," Geigle said. "We start from the substations because we can restore more people's power that way, and we work our way out. We try to get as many people on with the least amount of work. It's mass chaos for the first couple of days. We don't know what we've got at first."
Geigle said the weather Dec. 25 was terrible and has since been mild, though there is an abundance of snow, making accessing power poles and lines a challenge.
"Christmas morning, it was raining on us and lighting and thunder come through. It was about 32 or 33 degrees. The rain and fog that morning actually knocked some ice off the power lines, so people who didn't have power Christmas morning, we were actually able to get them back on before the storm hit," he said. "When the storm hit, we couldn't see 10 feet in front of us. There were 50 to 60 mph wind gusts. That lasted for 10 to 12 hours. It got bad enough that we sent crews up and at 10:30 that night, we pulled them. It's not worth someone getting stuck and being there overnight."
Western Nebraska had a quiet, mild Christmas with average winter weather. Mike Dyer, a purebred Hereford producer, and his crew are caring for his cattle as they normally would.
"Christmas morning was fine. We had mostly sleet and mist, then around 2, it started snowing a little bit. The wind blew terrible hard," he said. "We didn't get a lot of snow, I doubt we got two inches. It wasn't terrible rough. It was nice here the day after Christmas. The wind was supposed to blow hard but didn't."
The Dyers Christmas tree shone all night and there was no cooking dinner by candlelight.
"The power outages were south of us, east of us, and west in Sioux County. Niobrara County was out of electricity," he said. "We're on the line between two power companies. We're fortunate that right where we set, we're on a uranium mine, so the electricity lines have been beefed up versus surrounding areas."
Dyer Ranch cattle are foraging for feed with some cake supplemented in.
"I'm letting them graze; they better be, because that's all they're getting. They're getting a little cake, but they're mostly grazing. We're feeding the calves."
Dyer welcomes the moisture, no matter what form.
"We always need the moisture; this time of year it doesn't do us a lot of good since the ground's froze, but it'll help some," he said. "I think we're all dry. We haven't had much moisture since August; we had a good August but it's been dry since."
Tiffany Schwenke is on a family operation that raises horses and cattle. Heavy snow fall and blowing winds were a common occurrence in that area, leaving a ten-foot drift in Schwenke's yard between her house and barn.
"We caked cows and horses down in the tree patch. There's no sense putting hay down right now, it would just blow to South Dakota," she said. "We got everything that we can fit in the barns with hay and water. The weather is 15 degrees right now (Tuesday, Dec. 27) with 40 to 50 mph winds. It's a ground blizzard out there with all the snow from the 25th blowing and drifting."
Just getting to the barn is a feat and all the vehicles that they had dug out to feed livestock are being blown in again.
"It's hard to see anything. You just have to watch your feet and put one foot in front of the other until you get where you are going. The wind is taking any moisture that we might have away. We haven't had any power outages yet but we have the wood stove going and prepared if it does."
Lemmon, South Dakota
Jo Hetzel's husband Chad and father-in-law Paul Huffman own Lemmon Livestock. They also operate a cow-calf operation. Jo had been snowed in the house until Tuesday. She said it started snowing Christmas Eve and got worse Christmas Day.
"We don't know how much snow we got for sure, but there's a lot of snow around here. There was a lot of wind. We weren't out of power, but some around us were," she said. "We're trying to get out to the cattle and hay and cake them. Yesterday all they got to was whatever was in town; today's project was to get to the ranches. We live in town, because we have to be able to get to sale barn. We have to do a lot of digging out to get the ranches to the south."
The weather didn't interfere with the Hetzel's Christmas plans since they only had a mile to go, however that mile took much longer than usual to travel.
"We need the moisture for sure, but it doesn't always have to come all at once," Jo said. "We definitely need the moisture, but it just makes for a lot of work when you have this much snow you have to move to get to your cows or get to work. It's lot of work to get there, then having to round everything up, it's an all day process."
Jo said Chad and Paul fed 80 bales on Christmas Eve to get the cattle through Christmas Day.
The Robinson family is a cow-calf operation in southeast Montana. Family members have been battling heavy snowfalls to get feed to cattle.
"They moved younger cows in closer yesterday (Dec. 26). My son-in-law Kyle Simmons took his snowmobile, my daughters the feed pick-up, and and my husband Scot the tractor, and they still have a few old cows they need to get into the winter pasture," Angy Robinson said. "We are suppose to get 45 mph wind tomorrow and Scot and Kyle are out with tractor and blade to open up roads. So if it blows tomorrow and fills it back in we are in trouble as it packs it harder than the first."
While nearby locations are getting hit harder, the Robinsons are receiving their fair share.
"We didn't get hit as hard as some, I have no idea how much as it blew so hard, but Broadus got 12 inches and Miles City got 14.5 inches. We didn't lose electricity, but over towards Ismay, Baker, Ekalaka area, I guess it did," she said. "We still had snow from the storm after Thanksgiving and Broadus and Miles City had none. The highways around Broadus and Miles City were closed."
The Christmas Day blizzard reached the corners of Wyoming. Katie Ford lives in Gillette and was celebrating Christmas with her boyfriend's family in Leiter. Her boyfriend Kellen Little and his brother Sheridan Little raise cattle and sheep on the Little Ranch.
"During the blizzard on Christmas Day, the winds were at 30 miles per hour and it was negative 14 or so outside with the wind chill," she said. "As far as extra care, we walked the livestock out of fence corners against the storm into shelter spots so that they would not drift up and over the fence onto the highway and railroad. One train through a herd of sheep could kill hundreds."
Ford and the Littles have been plowing their way through the drifts in order to get feed out.
"We plowed for six hours Monday just to be able to get to the livestock to feed," Ford said. "The drifts are 8 feet high around the ranch. It was a little intimidating yesterday but after plowing it helped. The weather is still super cold and the wind has picked back up," she said.