There are few things more disappointing than potential unfulfilled, when the ring is pulled from your grasp on the cusp of finishing a task or realizing a goal. Plenty of folks in western South Dakota can relate to such disappointment following a disastrous winter storm named Atlas that pounded the area in early October.
The locale was just beginning to see some relief from prolonged drought, and weaning time wasn’t far off. The heavy rain that fell Oct. 3 was welcomed moisture. But then the temperature plunged, the wind picked up, and that rain turned to heavy snow.
The snow, propelled by 60-mph winds, caught cattle still on summer pastures. Driven by the heavy snow, livestock drifted with the wind and snow into fences and draws, where they were buried and suffocated.
When it was over, much of the area was out of power, and many livestock producers were in the dark regarding the location and condition of their livestock. Cattle, sheep and horses were spread across the countryside, commingled into groups of multiple owners. At press time, it was estimated that up to 75,000 head of cattle were lost in the storm.
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Following the storm, producers scrambled to check on their stock. Many found them in huddled bunches of buried deads. As Heather Hamilton-Maude, a July bride from Wyoming just beginning her new life with husband Charles in Scenic, SD, noted in BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly:
“There is no describing what goes through your mind when you come upon a pile of partially exposed animals that froze, suffocated or died of hypothermia. The challenge of mentally bracing yourself as you climb down off your horse and wade through deep snow to resolutely dig until you expose an ear tag is difficult. So is the sickness deep inside you as you wait to discover if the animal is one of yours. Never mind the gut-wrenching, almost physical pain when you discover it is your own.
“Of course, the relief that comes with discovering the dead animal isn’t one of yours is so overwhelming that it rocks you back on your heels. But you’re instantly overrun by shame and guilt, because it means some other rancher will feel the first, even worse, type of pain when they hear the bad news.”
The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund has been established to provide assistance to livestock producers impacted by the storm. The fund will be administered by the Black Hills Area Community Foundation in cooperation with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association. Give to the Rancher Relief Fund here or call 605-342-0429.
More Winter Storm Atlas information: