Ranchers work overtime as winter hits hard
The Dakotas and Montana didn’t notice that another storm had hit. After weeks of lower than average temperatures, intermittent – sometimes heavy – snowfall, and almost daily wind and drifting, the days of January 7-11 seemed like just a few more days of winter in the northern plains.
But according to the weather channel, this storm covered a lot of territory and was given a name. Iras.
Our friends further west are now pushing snow, dealing with unexpected runoff and preparing for flooding, even after years of drought in much of that region.
According to weather.com: “The storm began Jan. 7-8 in the Northwest with significant snow and ice affecting that region.
“Up to an inch of ice was reported in Lane County, Oregon, which includes Eugene, Creswell and Goshen. Eugene, Oregon, also picked up 4.5 inches of snow. Freezing rain and snow impacted the Salt Lake City metro and Portland, as well.”
And the storm traveled east.
“Cold air trapped in the valleys of western Colorado also resulted in freezing rain there on Jan. 9. Around the Grand Junction area, near one quarter of an inch of ice accumulated, leading to ice-covered roads and sending cars into ditches.
“Blowing snow and high winds combined to snarl traffic across southern Minnesota on Jan. 10, even creating whiteout conditions in south-central and southwest Minnesota.
“Iras also brought strong winds to the Great Lakes as low pressure intensified Jan. 10. Erie, Pennsylvania, along the southeast shore of Lake Erie, gusted as high as 67 mph.”
The winds downed trees and power lines in parts of Ohio, Michigan and New York. More than 40,000 utility customers lost power in Upstate New York, according to The Associated Press.
Just like ranchers across the northern plains, cattlemen in Oregon, Idaho and northern California are focused on keeping feed and water in front of their livestock in the midst of the chilling snow and wind.
Shaw Cattle Company near Caldwell, Idaho, has been greatly impacted by the storm, as the crew attempts to prepare for their February bull sale , even as the roof of their salebarn collapsed under the wet, heavy snow.
“It was a metal roof with good slope, but the snow didn’t slide off like it normally would. We had a lot of snow at once, then the weather got really cold and froze it all down. Then we got more snow—two days in a row—6 inches the first day and about 9 inches the second, and then it started raining. That’s all it took, and the roof collapsed!” Shaw said the roof caved Jan. 9.
On January 11 they were busy semen-testing bulls, and Ron Shurtz, the cattle manager for the Hereford, Angus and Red Angus outfit, said that the snow was indeed a challenge. “We’re trying to prepare these bulls, and we’re also right in the middle of calving,” he says.
Greg Shaw said the whole crew was working round the clock. “We’ve had sub-zero nights so we’re taking 3-hour shifts with calving. Tucker, Sam, and Ron each take a shift (from 6 until 10 pm, from 10 until 1 a.m. and from 1 until 3 a.m. and then I go out at 3 a.m.) and everyone is back out again at 6 a.m.” Any cows with new calves have to be brought in and the calves warmed up and dried off, he said.
The Shaws are feeding more hay right now than they’ve ever had to feed. “Every cow on our ranch is being fed. We usually have a lot of grass and very little snow, so our spring-calving cows (that don’t calve until March) generally don’t need any hay—just a little protein supplement. Many years we get green grass by early March, and often we don’t feed those cows hay, except sometimes a little just before they start calving. This year, however, all the cows are being fed.” This is an added chore, and expense.
They’d planned to semen-check the sale bulls earlier in January, but conditions were so cold and icy that the veterinarian said it would be too hard on the bulls. “We couldn’t take a chance on hurting any of them, so we’ve been semen-testing the past few days, doing just a couple pens at a time—doing what we can get done with a crew that we can spare from calving,” says Shaw.
Many roofs in the Treasure Valley have caved in. “An onion shed with 2,500 bins of onions collapsed and now those onions are ruined—frozen and wet. There have been some huge losses.
Shaw said the don’t know the extent of the barn damage just yet, and they won’t be moving their sale date. “The insurance people haven’t come out yet to look at it so we haven’t been able to move anything. We know the roof fell on the sale ring, so the ring will have to be rebuilt. The collapse may have also damaged some of the barn walls. We still plan on having our sale here in February but it will take a lot of work to repair the barn.”
“We’ve been hit hard, but not as hard as a lot of folks. We are fortunate to have both Tuck and Sam here to help us, and Ron—plus half a dozen really good employees who have been here every single day. They have been troopers and very dedicated. It’s been a challenge, but we are getting through it!” says Shaw.
After a mild fall, much of Idaho was hit with sub-zero weather in mid-December and again in early January, along with unusually heavy snow. Deep snow has impacted vehicle travel as well as livestock and wildlife. Deer and elk have come into some rural towns, and are camped in farmers’ and ranchers’ fields and haystacks, eating with the cattle and tearing up haystacks. Stockmen have challenges with frozen water and thick ice, and difficulty getting feeding equipment through the deep snow.
This will be a winter the younger generation will remember and older folks will add to the list of “bad” ones like 1945, 1964, 1978-79, or the Siberian Express of February 1989.
Highway travel has been seriously impaired. Mountain passes have been closed periodically as snowplows and other road equipment work round the clock to try to clear away the snowfall and a few snow slides.
Deep snow in the Boise area has created hardship for many people because that area of southern Idaho rarely gets much snow; temperatures are generally warm enough to melt snow when it does come.
Some people had trouble driving to the stores or anywhere else. On Wednesday all westbound lanes of Interstate 84 between mileposts 29 (N. 21st Ave. in Caldwell) and milepost 35 (Northside Blvd. in Nampa) were shut down so Idaho Transportation Department crews could make emergency repairs to potholes in the area.
A Boise woman, Brandi Hume, stated on Facebook that she had been home bound for 3 weeks. “I have a job that I can’t get to and kids that can’t do anything outside of our doors. Enough is enough!”
Ice buildup on rivers and streams is creating flooding in many places. “There was water over the highway near Malad, Idaho, and Payette is also having local flooding due to ice jams and heavy snow,” said Rockwell Smith, a semi-retired radio engineer. Erratic temperatures added to the problem in some regions, as temperatures shot up to thawing after lows down to 30 below zero. Schools were closed in Challis and Salmon on January 9 after snow slides blocked the river road. Travel in and out of Salmon was completely cut off that day, with roads closed in every direction due to heavy snow, snow/mud slides or flooding. Birch Creek ice jams flooded Highway 28 toward Idaho Falls and closed that route.
Cold temperatures in December and through early January created more than 23 miles of ice jam along the Salmon River, flooding portions of nearby ranches, completely flooding several campgrounds and access areas along the river, and threatening to flood parts of town next to the river. The ice jam and flooding hasn’t been this bad since 1985.
Heavy snows caused serious damage to buildings in many communities, with roofs collapsing. The outdoor arena at the Lemhi County Fairgrounds was flattened; not only did the roof cave in, but the entire building came apart, with one side flat on the ground. Fortunately no one was in it when the collapse occurred. This is a set-back for the County and for local horsemen and young people of the area. Many horsemen use the indoor arena, as does the 4-H program.
With more snow arriving January 10 and 11, townspeople and ranchers alike are shoveling it off roofs.
In Ontario, Oregon, just across the western Idaho border, the Les Schwab building roof caved in, as did many other roofs across southern Idaho. A private arena collapsed near Emmett, Idaho, as did a furniture store warehouse in Payette, Idaho (collapsing January 9). Buildings and roofs in that region are not built to withstand this snow load.
Nearly everyone has some kind of “snow story” or “ice story” to tell. In Idaho County a horse had to be rescued and pulled out of a river by Sheriff’s deputies, after falling through the ice. The horse was stuck in the ice and couldn’t get out on its own. So far there has not been much loss of livestock, so everyone is hoping the storms subside. At this point it’s been mostly buildings damaged, cars stuck in the snow, and neighbors helping neighbors get through the problems and the snowdrifts.
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Agriculture Community Pulls Together to Support Ranchers Impacted by Windy Fire