Mixed Blessing: Winter Storm Xylia brings snow, mud, moisture
for Tri-State Livestock News
“It was snowmageddon; I have lived here for twenty years and I’ve never seen anything this,” Sondra Anderson said. “Oh my God, there is lots of snow. We have probably thirty inches at least of wet, heavy snow. At least it didn’t come with much wind. Our biggest concern was the wind. Two years ago so many of our cows had frostbite, but this time it didn’t get very cold and we never lost power. It started snowing about 2 a.m. Sunday, liked you unzipped the clouds, until Tuesday morning. Sunday night we couldn’t get out to the cows anymore, it was filling in as fast as we moved it.”
Laif and Sondra Anderson ranch northeast of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming just across the Nebraska line. “It has been very challenging, now with hypothermia. We had two to three inches of slush under the snow and now it has started to melt. There are ponds everywhere, nowhere to put our cattle, just lots of bedding. It will be challenging for the next several days. We have pushed snow for three days.”
The Andersons are very thankful to have calving barns, plenty of bedding and tractors to push the snow. With their pens cleared of snow, they are hoping things will get better soon. They opened the local county roads near their place they but the wind keeps blowing them shut and schools have been closed all week. With warmer temperatures forecast, they worry about rapidly melting snow washing out roads.
Historic winter storm Xylia dumped heavy snow and rain across parts of northern Colorado, southern Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota, March 13 through 15. Many areas saw over a foot of snow with parts of Wyoming receiving several feet. Nebraska received both snow and rain, sometimes with just a few miles separating a foot of snow and several inches of rain. Cheyenne, Wyoming broke snowfall records with over 30 inches, in a region which averages an annual snowfall of 60 inches. Interstates across Wyoming and Nebraska were closed from Saturday, March 13 until Wednesday, March 17. High winds caused up to 10-foot drifts in areas and buried vehicles. Buckhorn Mountain in Colorado had 42 inches of new snow, Wyoming’s Laramie range had 48 inches of snow and central Nebraska saw more than 5 inches of rain.
Thousands of vehicles were forced to wait out the road closures, some semis were buried at rest stops. One driver’s wife put out a plea on social media for someone to take food and water to drivers stranded at Dwyer Junction rest stop near Wheatland, Wyoming. Local law enforcement on snowmobiles were able to reach the drivers, bringing food and offers of hotel rooms for those able to leave their trucks. The city of Cheyenne issued a call for locals with snowmobiles to please help with shift changes for first responders and emergency personnel as the city was completely buried.
Governor Gordon of Wyoming has issued a State of Emergency declaration to expedite aid to hard hit areas of the state. Counties have established emergency management offices and have offered to help ranchers care for and feed livestock. The Wyoming branch of Homeland Security has been working with the Department of Agriculture to offer assistance to producers but as of Thursday afternoon they hadn’t been called on.
Residents from Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska lost electricity for several days. West Central Electric Company in Murdo, South Dakota had over a thousand meters out of power early in the week as the ice started to shed from the lines, breaking poles and tangling lines.
Wheatland REA in Wheatland, Wyoming brought in a helicopter to locate downed lines and deliver linemen to inaccessible areas to help restore power. Linemen from other areas have been arriving to help repair the lines and steadily power is being restored.
Southwest Wyoming rancher Joe Hickey is thankful they didn’t get as much as Cheyenne, his estimate is around twenty-four inches. “The Bureau of Land Management sent letters out that we were in a drought and to expect cuts of up to 50 percent, it would have been hard on us. This (snow) will fill up all the reservoirs and give the grasses a start.”
Traditionally Hickey always started calving the first of March but recently backed his dates off until March 20, so he didn’t have many calves on the ground and his herd weathered the storm in good shape. He said it has been a trial for those calving hard. “We were at 70 percent snow pack in the Uinta Mountains, this snow was heavy and wet, like what we can get in a May storm. It has been getting a little cold at night. When I go to feed, the dogs can walk on top of the snow, it freezes hard enough at night.”
Hickey lives about 60 miles from Evanston, his closest town is Mountain View and his elevation is 7,500 feet. “I usually feed until the first of May, starting in the middle of December. This winter the cows have taken less feed but since the storm they are taking 25 percent more. All winter I always felt that it would be a long time till spring. This is one of those fights you have with nature. It has been a complete blessing for us.”
Jason Irving ranches near Wheatland, Wyoming. “It was deep and miserable. The most snow I’ve seen since 1979. We have 3 foot on the level, it’s wet and heavy. We have twice as much snow as we did with Ulmer (two years ago) but not as much wind.”
Irving prepared for the worst and got all his heavy cows and the heifers in. “We brought all the young pairs down and put all the calves in the barn. [They spent] 36 hours away from their moms. By 3 a.m. Monday morning we were out clearing a spot and let the calves back out and mothered them up. We are still getting them mothered up. The corrals are horrifying, it’s a melting, muddy mess.”
Irving calved right through the storm, with five or six new calves a day. They kept the calf hot-boxes going all the time and were very thankful for a nice facility and being prepared for whatever the Wyoming winter might throw at them. They weathered this storm very well but are still waiting to see more effects of the weather.
“It was miserable, absolutely miserable,” Irving said. “None of the gates worked the snow was so deep and the snow slid off the barn roof and buried the door. In 1979 we didn’t have the equipment, we are blessed to have good equipment today, but even with 4-wheel drive tractors the snow is hard to move. We keep pushing snow and feeding in a new spot every day.”
Justin McBride ranches near Meriden, Wyoming and he estimates that they probably had at least two foot of snow but that a good deal of it melted immediately and during the snow. They prepared for the forecast snow and brought their cows closer to the house. He feels that they weathered the storm very well. “It was a process, we had to push a lot of snow and it was deep snow. We still can’t get a pickup out on the trails we bladed. We drove a tractor around like it was a car for two days and it wasn’t easy in that. For what the storm was, it turned out pretty dang good,” McBride said.
Ben and Linda Sidwell ranch 20 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming, just across the state line into Colorado. “The drifts are just amazing and enormous. It started blowing hard about 6:30 Sunday morning, there was no blizzard warning until noon but the ground blizzard was horrendous. It blew until about dark on Sunday,” Linda Sidwell said.
The Sidwells guess they have around 25 to 30 inches of snow. Their ranch runs north and south and even with 4-wheel drive tractors they struggled to reach their cattle. A neighbor five miles away called to report that he had one of their pairs in his corral. Apparently the cattle started to drift and hit a set of old railroad tracks and followed them for miles. Some neighbors with snowmobiles and one on horseback scouted the country, finding another pair and a single calf. As of Monday evening all the stock had been accounted for. The Sidwells are in the thick of calving but so far death loss due to the storm has been very small.
“We are ever so thankful and grateful for the good neighbors and friends we have. They pitched right in finding calves and hauling calves. Without them we never would have gotten as far as we did. People in our industry rally around each other, we really are a family,” Linda Sidwell said.
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