Bombogenesis: Midwest, plains farmers share stories of late winter storm’s effects
March 16, 2019
Meteorologists said it could act like a hurricane over the plains. The March 13 to 14 storm brought sleepless nights for many in plains and midwest states with rain, sleet, snow, wind, mud, flooding and freezing temperatures as producers are in the thick of calving.
“Bombogenesis,” a popular term used by meteorologists, occurs when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping at least 24 millibars over 24 hours. A millibar measures atmospheric pressure. This can happen when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass, such as air over warm ocean waters. The formation of this rapidly strengthening weather system is a process called bombogenesis, which creates what is known as a bomb cyclone, according to the National Weather Service. And by many accounts, the March 13 to 14 storm “Ulmer” qualified.
The storm delivered and then some. Snowfall was estimated at more than a foot, possible flooding and extremely high winds. In many cases the snow piled up even higher. While heavy snow fell in Wyoming, South Dakota and northwest Nebraska, much of the cornhusker state received inches of rain, preceded by a 50 degree day that melted much of the snow that was still on the ground from the previous storms. The ground is still frozen so the melting snow and rain has pooled in all the low areas, flooding towns, roads, and swelling rivers and streams. Dams and bridges are washing out and blocks of ice bigger than semi trucks are wreaking havoc.
Joe and Christi Leonard ranch north of Bassett, Nebraska and had cattle pastured along the Niobrara River. During the night of March 13, the ice went out on the river and propelled by massive amounts of runoff, huge ice blocks pushed over the banks, across the road and even trapped a bull and a cow among the chunks.
“There is only about 50 feet of fence left on the east side of pasture he had them in, the ice washed it all out. I can’t believe the cow and bull were still alive, they were on ground but surrounded by huge chucks of ice, I do believe God was on their side last night. Thank God it was only two head,” Christi Leonard said. “One piece of ice was bigger than Joe’s pickup, and knee-high thick.”
Joe moved the cattle using a sharp shod horse.
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Tyrel Licking reports that the county roads in north Lincoln and southeast Logan Counties Nebraska are impassible in many places, with water crossing them in numerous places after more than an inch and a half of rain. The extremely high wind even blew over a large creep feeder out on a pivot. Licking works for Lincoln County Feedyard in Stapleton, Nebraska.
“Cattle are bunched up, tails to the wind and are almost impossible to check,” he said on March 14. “The wind is horrible, gates are harder than hell to open or close.” Licking said. “Not many are sick this morning but the next few days might be bad.”
Mike and Lori Waldron, who ranch north of Draper, South Dakota, figure they got 16 inches or more of snow.. “We have 10 foot drifts in places. It is a really wet heavy snow.” Lori said. “We have cattle trapped in a smaller pasture due to the crazy drifts. Thankfully we are not calving yet.”
Scot and Jodie O’Bryan live in Belvidere, South Dakota and raise registered Longhorn cattle and Quarter horses.
“They say 18 inches of snow. Our corrals are eight to 10 foot deep all across and our barn is buried. We had to dig down to the barn door and then shovel a eight-foot path to open the door. I am exhausted.” Jodie said. “We had to dig some calves out but all are alive. Our yearling colts were all ice and couldn’t see, we had to knock the ice off their eyes so they could see.” The O’Bryans see live animals and are thankful. “We are so blessed.”
Many of the older calves were in a calf shelter which was buried under about 10 feet of snow.
“That moment when your calf shelter is buried deep. You shovel and shovel and can hear some calves bawling, their mothers are going crazy. You finally get down to the opening and everything in there looks back at you and they are all alive. Made this ol’ girl bawl like a baby, thank you Jesus.” O’Bryan posted on Facebook.
“I was so emotionally exhausted and had prepared myself to see a bunch of dead calves. I literally collapsed and bawled. I can’t explain the relief. We busted our butts through all the 30 below zero weather and saved them all and I just for sure thought they were dead.” O’Bryan said.
Judd and Jamie Schomp are ranchers from Martin, South Dakota.
“We were just starting to get hot and heavy calving, eight to 10 calves a day. We had a good inch of rain first and I’m guessing 24 inches of snow, with 70 miles per hour winds.” Judd said. “It was really something, the winds, it was just like standing next to a freight train, just roaring and screaming. This storm was way worse than the blizzard we had last April. The drifts are unbelievable, the alleys are five and a half foot panels packed solid with snow clear across. It is heavy wet stuff. We worked all day Thursday trying to move snow to water and feed cows. I’m worried if now we will be fighting pneumonia and sickness in the calves we saved.”
In the Kurli (near Milesville), South Dakota, area, Deep Creek Angus owner T.J. Gabriel had just gotten to the first bunch of pairs when Tri-State Livestock News talked to him Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t think any got snowed under,” he said, adding that he fed and bedded the evening before to encourage the cows to stay next to the windbreak. When he checked them during the night, he found one calf shelter blown half full of snow. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen in that bad,” he said, of the blowing snow and wind. Another windbreak was buried with snow.
Gabriel is nearly done calving so he was able to put the heavies in a shed.
“You can’t cuss the moisture. We’ve been so dry here,” he said.
And he’s heard the stories of the flooding east and south of him. “We’re thankful we aren’t dealing with that.” Gabriel said if the weather doesn’t get much colder, he’ll have a lot of bare ground in a day or two.
Kathy Fortune and her family figure their Interior, South Dakota ranch got about 17 to 20 inches of snow, and the National Weather Service had told her the wind had gotten as high as 70 mph.
The Fortunes had newborn calves in a horse trailer, a camper and in a running pickup to keep them warm. The marked the calves with duct tape and a sharpie so they’d know which cow to return them to.
Paul and Tamara Kearns ranch between Rushville and Lakeside, Nebraska.
“We got a little over an inch of rain before the wintry mix and we are figuring about 20 inches of snow. It’s making it very difficult to get around. The drifts have covered some gates that we had to dig out to feed, we have lost some calves due to drifting and the water. It’s really a sloppy mess.” Tamara said. “My husband was checking every two hours. It has been very emotional wondering if we did everything we could have or what we could have done differently to save the ones that didn’t make it.”
Zach and Erin Cox’s ranch is 27 miles northwest of Mullen, Nebraska. They are guessing they had two-and-a-half inches of rain. Immediately following, they were hit with eight to 10 inches of snow and lots of wind. Zach checked the cows with a snowmobile and was happy to report that their livestock fared very well through the storm.
Cody and Stephanie Wolf from Cozad, Nebraska are flooding.
“We didn’t even get an inch of rain, it’s all snow melt. There is water everywhere. Highway is closed. We had to get a port-a-potty at our house because the toilet won’t flush.’ Cody said. “I feel bad that we don’t have a dry place to get (livestock) to. I have never seen it this bad before.”
Rod and Laura Gray of Harrison, Nebraska, said rain turning to snow was on the menu on their ranch, too.
“That made it really muddy underneath, then the wind came and it started snowing really heavy,” they said.
Even with zero visibility, they checked cows constantly through the storm, and brought in new calves, after working all day prior to the storm to bed calf shelters and windbreak and move cattle out of muddy lots to dryer ground.
Not too far away, on the Wyoming side of the state line, the Kottwitz family was getting creative. The family decided to try canoeing calves across Mule Creek as they feared the creek and the Cheyenne River would close the cattle in. The mother cows followed the calves in a canoe similar to how they would follow a calf sled.
The Niobrara River was out of its banks and over their road, but Laura Gray thinks the road may still be intact when the water recedes. She worries more flooding could be in their future when the snow from “Ulmer” melts.
Paul Allen, a Bristow, Nebraska, rancher answered an early morning, March 14 phone call to learn that the Spencer dam had given way seven miles up the Niobrara River. Paul and his wife, and son Cody and family escaped safely while the water came within a few feet of the main home.
Paul was able to open panels that would allow his cattle to escape the impending floodwaters, as they did not want to take their normal route because it was covered in running water. Some bulls have not yet been located.
“His horsetrailer floated from the hay meadow, through the hay yard and down into the far east end of the calf pen. His 3/4 ton pickup floated around for awhile but his buildings are still standing and his machinery is still there, some moved,” said his daughter Amber Greer.
All structures on Allen’s brother-in-law’s place were washed away upstream, and Ken Angel remains missing.
Greer also reports that Allen’s power, water and all were functional after he returned home, but the town of Spencer is not so lucky. “Spencer will be completely out of water because the water line went under the river. The lines are severely damaged.”
The effects of this storm will be widespread and felt for a long while to come, especially with the warmer temperatures forecasted melting more snow. Here in central Nebraska we are thankful not to have much new snow and feel for those who have been the hardest hit.
Those needing help with flooding are encouraged to check out the Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa Flooding Alert Facebook page or connect with their local extension representative or find suggestions at: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or https://flood.unl.edu/.