Bombogenesis brings snow, wind, sleet and rain
Meteorologists have said it is like a hurricane over the plains. The March 13-14 storm has wreaked havoc on most of the Plains and Midwest states with rain, sleet, snow, wind, mud, flooding and freezing temperatures, while many producers are in the thick of calving and lambing.
“Bombogenesis,” a popular term used by meteorologists, occurs when a mid-latitude 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 storm qualified.
The National Weather Service gave warning that the storm heading for the Great Plains would be bad. Snowfall estimated at more than a foot, possible flooding and extremely high winds. Unfortunately for once they were closer to the truth than normal. While heavy snow fell in Wyoming, South Dakota and northwest Nebraska, much of Nebraska received several 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. Bridges are washing out and huge blocks of ice are wreaking havoc.
Joe and Christi Leonard, ranch north of Bassett, Neb., 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 the 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 had a horse with sharp shoes on, thank goodness because it is total ice, and drove them out.”
Tyrel Licking said that the county roads in north Lincoln and southeast Logan counties in Nebraska are terrible, with water crossing them in numerous places after more than an inch and a half of rain. The extremely high wind blew over a large creep feeder out on a pivot. Licking works for Lincoln County Feedyard in Stapleton, Neb. “Cattle are bunched up, tails to the wind and are almost impossible to check. 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.”
ESCAPING THE FLOOD
Paul Allen’s place was flooded when the Spencer dam gave out on the Niobrara. “His horsetrailer floated from the hay meadow, through the hay yard and down into the far east end of the calf pen. His three-quarter-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. Amber also said that Paul was able to open panels to let cows to safety because they would not cross the current. She believes most of his cows are safe but his bulls remain missing. The water came within a few feet of the door on his home, but he and his wife along with his son Cody and family were able to evacuate with the help of neighbors with front wheel assist tractors.
Scot and Jodie O’Bryan live in Belvidere, S.D., and raise registered Longhorn cattle and Quarter horses. They got 18 inches of snow, the snow around their corrals is 8 to 10 feet and their barn is buried. “We had to dig down to the barn door and then shovel an 8-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. 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.
Paul and Tamara Kearns ranch between Rushville and Lakeside, Neb. “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 ranch 27 miles northwest of Mullen, Neb. They are guessing they had 2 1/2 inches of rain which turned into 8 to 10 inches of snow and lots of wind. Zach checked the cows with a snowmobile and was happy to report that their livestock faired very well through the storm.
Mike and Lori Waldron ranch north of Draper, S.D., and are grateful that they did’t have to deal with calving in the blizzard. “We have 10 foot drifts in places. Over 16 inches but way more maybe. 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.”
Judd and Jamie Schomp are ranchers from Martin, S.D., said “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 mph winds,”
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.
“At our place near Mitchell, S.D., it was freezing rain all day March 13, and March 14 brought more snow, wind and white-out conditions,” said Amanda Radke, a freelancer for The Fence Post. “The real challenge is going to be in the days to come. With warmer weather expected in the 10-day forecast, my fear is when all of this snow melts, the flooding will be catastrophic for many. The timing of this storm coincides with calving season, and the conditions have made for a difficult 48 hours so far.”
“Ranchers here in northern Kansas are flat-worn out with the onslaught of El Nino’s frigid, icy, snowy winter weather, especially slamming right into calving season these past three weeks,” said Amy Hadachek, a freelancer for The Fence Post. “We (as ranchers) have had to bring newborn calves into the house, well into the breezeway, put them on a really nice shag rug (from our master bathroom,) and use large bath towels to rapidly hand-dry the newborn calf, then blow-dry them. I’ve whipped up several batches of colostrum, which my farmer-rancher husband Larry fed them in an esophageal tube.
My husband slept in a recliner in the livingroom, and got up and out (every two to three hours) during the blizzard and subsequent 2-foot drifts for a couple of weeks aound-the-clock to check on heifers (first time mommas) and newborn calves, and even then other momma cows about to deliver out in other fields.
I talked to a friend here, and her husband also did the ‘recliner-sleeping’ routine that I mentioned above. Ranchers say this was the worst, most challenging calving/El Nino winter they ever remember.” ❖