Last Blast: Gage is final winter storm of 2019
2019 was a memorable year with record moisture, historic blizzards and widespread flooding were just some of the challenges faced by those of us who live in the “unpopulated” plains. The final blizzard of the year more than lived up to its full potential. Named Gage, this storm system closed interstates in California due to heavy snow. It gathered momentum as it crossed the Rocky Mountains and then proceeded to dump snow and ice from Arizona to Canada. According to the National Weather Service, Alpine, Arizona received 18 inches of snow, 22 inches reported in New Mexico, 26 inches in Jamestown, North Dakota, 17.5 inches in Watertown, South Dakota and 18 inches in Gross, Nebraska. Rain fell Friday night and into Saturday leaving a thick covering of ice before turning to snow on the 28th of December. Sunday brought more snow and strong winds that lasted until late Monday. Hundreds of vehicle wrecks have been blamed on the storm as it moved eastward dumping snow in the north and even spawning tornados in the Southern United States.
The snow wouldn’t have been so bad but the 40 to 60 mph winds created whiteout conditions and blew the heavy wet snow into record drifts. Some of which in Nebraska are well over 10 feet high. Interstates were closed in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, with some stretches remaining shut down into Monday. Some counties didn’t even send out their plows due to the wind on Monday. Even now days later road maintenance crews are still struggling to open drifted roads. With many reporting that they have never seen drifts this bad and that their equipment isn’t big enough for the job.
Stockmen everywhere are counting their blessings that they weren’t calving yet and that their herds were in their protected winter pastures. By Tuesday some ranchers were still unable to reach all their stock since they lacked big enough equipment to deal with the drifts. This storm has proved trying to the registered seed-stock producers who are just entering their calving season and reinforced the wisdom of the investments made in calving barns.
“We aren’t calving yet so that is a blessing. Those mid-April blizzards last year and the year before were sure hard on us. We do have some fall calving cows with calves at side now but they seemed to get through okay. We put windbreak up in that pasture because there isn’t much natural protection. Our spring calving herd is in a pasture with a lot of cover and they did fine. We fed extra hay and made sure everything had an opportunity to drink. That wind was bone chilling and it is just as hard on cows as it is on people, but we just did the best we could. We were lucky it wasn’t any colder.and now we will keep a close eye on the fall calves for respiratory issues which is always a concern with these storms,” said Ross and Janna Block, Block Cattle Services near Midland, South Dakota.
“Friday evening the freezing rain started. With every night check down to the barn, to look in on our full house of heavy nanny goats, the ice was thicker and thicker over the gravel. Just as the weather man said, Saturday morning would bring a break in the system. It seemed like every new station had a different description of what our snow totals would be, but it was looking like 4-8 inches was becoming the popular opinion. With that forecast in mind, it didn’t seem like this was going to be too bad of a system even though there would be a sheet of ice under it. We prepared accordingly for what was expected to be a mild blizzard. Expectations and reality soon became two very different perspectives as the hours ticked on through Saturday night and Sunday. The snow was relentless and just kept coming down, or pretty much sideways because of the record breaking winds in our area of 50-60 mph. Trips to the barn were becoming more and more difficult as the drifts were growing. We had to dig out a hydrant that was under a 6 foot snowbank every time we needed to haul water to the barn full of goats. Feed bunks had to be scooped for the calves on feed every time we needed to make a pass. By Monday, the sun was shining but the winds were still gusting. Everything that we had tried to open up Sunday was blowed back shut on Monday. Our road stayed open between our house and the feed yard, so all cattle in our feedlot and cows behind the house were relatively easy to feed. Our main road to the highway was finally opened by a snow plow early Tuesday evening. But we have yet to get to our bred heifers or replacement heifer calves, as that road is blowed shut and will require equipment bigger than what we have at our ranch. Had we know that were going to get double of what they were calling for we would have prepared differently and moved more cattle closer to home. That is one of the drawbacks of all this technology, we come to rely it and when it is wrong, it really leaves us in the lurch. We just take it day by day and do what we can to stay safe and care for the livestock. It’s really all you can do, I mean; you can’t “google” your way out of these situations.”
“We were at our peak of kidding goats, which has to be done this time of year for our girls to have and sell 4-H goats and goat tying goats. And, it is nice to have the goats mostly kidded out before heifers and cows start calving. With the barn bull of heavies and goat families, we have a group of nannies north of the barn who have an open front shed shelter. With the wind and snow still gusting, I told our two oldest daughters, Mahaya (age 12) and Maysa (age 9) to make their way north of the barn and check that bunch and make sure that the open front shed was not drifted in. They crawled into the shed, which they said was still and warm with lots of goats taking up shelter. The girls wanted to step out of the elements for a few minutes and catch their bearings. They were looking the goats over when Maysa said, “Mahaya, this one has feet coming!” Mahaya was quick to yell back, “You are just pranking me!”
“Oh no, here is the head!” Maysa said. Mahaya lives for intense birth situations and getting her hands covered in amniotic fluid. She quickly handled the baby as it was delivered, while the nanny was standing, never letting the baby drop into the snow and slop. She told Maysa to “unzip your coat” and she pressed the newborn against Maysa’s body and zipped her coat up around it. Maysa took off for the barn and had to take some detours as the drifts that were in a direct path to the barn were too much for her 9 year old self to traverse. Mahaya led the nanny to the barn, which, leading a single goat in a blizzard requires much brute force! Momma & baby were reunited in the barn, under a heat lamp. Just like ranching, 4-H in our family is 365 days a year. Our girls are growing up learning that really, the county fair is a very small part of their 4-H experience! Raising their goats, cattle and horses are the important lessons. With almost 60 new baby goats in the barn in 7 days, this will be a kidding season that my girls will never forget! And come August, when we are baking in the heat at the county fair, we will look at these little goat faces and say, “Remember when you were born in a blizzard!”” said Karina Jones, Ansley, Nebraska.
“Kelly & I live in LaMoure, ND. We are a small operation. We had 24” of snow fall with wind gusts up to 50+ mph, creating major drifts in the yard, pasture and pens. It took 2 days in a bobcat to shovel pens, find feed bunks, bedding and get to the feed sources. Our rodeo bulls had barn access. Horses, cows, calves and rodeo bulls all fared well. I was worried about my mini pony, Sheldon, the snow was belly deep on him in places but not where the hay wagon and bale feeder sit. I knew he would be fine. I ended up delivering lunch with the bobcat, a 1st for winter picnics! We were very thankful the temps were not lower (20s) and that the flickering power stayed on. Physically 10 hours straight in the bobcat is too much, mentally though it makes for peace of mind going to bed knowing everyone is fed, bedded and has an easy path to the water fountain. The snow fall is much like our March 2019 storm. Next on the to-do list is clean off shop and barn roofs. It truly feels like we just did that (back in March),” said Tesa Klein.
Ranchers in our region are hoping that 2020 has more moderate weather and higher cattle prices than 2019.