Winter Weather Leaves Thousands Without Power or Water

Even though the winter of 2009-10 isn’t yet half over, it has already been one to remember in South Dakota. Temperatures have been even colder than usual, inches and inches of snow have fallen, and even when the snow hasn’t fallen, fierce winds have blown around what was already on the ground. There is something seriously frustrating about shoveling the same snow more than once!

We traveled across our great state this weekend and got a belated glimpse of some of the havoc our extreme winter weather has caused.

There were livestock fences and wind shelters entirely covered in snow. Many large fields of corn stood unharvested after an unusually wet fall followed by the early arrival of winter. And even while there were areas of brown ground exposed in some places, just a short distance away there were mature shelter belts of trees with only branches poking out of enormous snowdrifts.

Repairing Power PoleBut perhaps the most striking blow the weather dealt was the large ice accumulations on power lines and poles, leaving thousands of people all across the Northern Plains without electricity for days, even weeks. The picture at right was borrowed from AberdeenNews.com.

We saw some of these downed power poles first hand. They looked like splintered toothpicks lying on the ground with lines sagging toward the ground or even snapped completely apart. And fixing these poles was obviously a daunting task. First crews needed to plow away the snow just to access the area for repair.

Entire communities have suffered from these extended power outages, and in these cases another problem has also arisen – a shortage of water. The community water towers drained quickly. And with no electricity to pump water or to run water treatment plants, residents were left without water not only for drinking and cooking, but also for flushing toilets, taking showers, or washing dishes and clothes.

Those living in the country have added challenges – they often have livestock to feed and water, and the power lines leading to their single-family homes are generally fixed only after those serving entire communities have already been repaired.

But country folks sometimes have it easier, too. Most have their own well and their own septic systems, making them more self-sufficient and generally taking care of any water shortage issue. Many also own standby generators to cover when the power goes out, so they are better prepared for the wrath of Mother Nature.

The plight of South Dakotans has gained some national news attention. An article will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times, for example. But generally our rural weather hardships are being rightfully overshadowed by the earthquake devastation in Haiti.

My ranching in-laws say this winter must compare to that of 1949, which has gone down in history as the worst winter of the 20th century for South Dakota. The only difference, they say, is that farmers and ranchers today have four-wheel drive tractors so they can still get the snow cleared to get out and take care of their animals in spite of the weather. Thank goodness for that!

Calving and lambing starts soon here, so hopefully we will at least get a break from the blustery weather. Even just a couple weeks of 40+ degree temperatures would help us better cope!

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Oh, Snow! And More Snow!

This is the scene outside my east door. I don’t think we’ll be using that picnic table for a few weeks anyway.

This is the scene outside my east door. I don’t think we’ll be using that picnic table for a few weeks anyway.

We have officially weathered our fourth blizzard of this winter season (and the third in less than two weeks)! At least this one hit on the weekend and no school or work was missed.

These last three blizzards brought us more than four feet of snow in two weeks – but thankfully some of it melted in between.

Take a look at these big piles of snow down the middle of the streets in town after the last blizzard. Views are pretty obstructed at the intersections!

Take a look at these big piles of snow down the middle of the streets in town after the last blizzard. Views are pretty obstructed at the intersections!

I think the folks in town are having a harder time with all of this snow than those of us out in the country – at least as far as cleanup is concerned. Even after hauling some of the previously fallen snow away, they are still running out places to put it all. With piles of snow taller than most vehicles running down the entire center of some city side streets, driving in town can leave a person feeling a bit like a mouse moving through a maze!

I haven’t been to town since Thursday morning, and Busy Toddler hasn’t been there since last weekend. She spent Wednesday and Thursday at Grandma’s House – which is just a few miles away – and that’s been her only trip out of the house this week!

Now Busy Toddler is getting a serious case of cabin fever. She actually went out with Dad on the sled yesterday afternoon to help feed critters – she just needed to get out of the house!

Say It Isn’t Snow! (Or, Enough Already!)

This second storm of the winter left behind 18 to 24 inches and drifts that were much larger.

This second storm of the winter left behind 18 to 24 inches and drifts that were much larger.

Even though the calendar says it’s now officially spring, one look outside says otherwise. The last time I wrote back in November, we had just finished our first blizzard of the 2008-09 winter season.

While we’ve had lots of cold winter weather with some glimmers of nice weather in between, we experienced our second blizzard last week leaving 18 to 24 inches of snow behind and three snow days home from school and work. Then our third blizzard struck earlier this week when 12 or so more inches fell, resulting in two more snow days stuck at home waiting for the weather to quiet and the plow to come.

After both recent storms the plow left only a single-lane swath cleared down our nearly three-mile stretch of gravel for the first 24 hours or so. That made for a harrowing couple of trips to town. I hoped and prayed I didn’t meet any oncoming vehicles as there aren’t very many driveways or side roads on which to pull over. The school bus didn’t want to have such an adventure on our road; we had to meet the bus at the highway or take the girls to school both days immediately following all three blizzards this winter.

Now we’re facing another winter storm warning for tonight and tomorrow. I stocked up on milk and diapers yesterday, so I guess we’re ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us. At least this time of year we know it won’t be around for too long … if it would just stop coming!