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South Dakota Field Office
Release Date: 11/15/13

SD continues to deal with blizzard impacts

BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. --- The effects of the Oct. 4 “Atlas” blizzard continue to be felt across western South Dakota, as ranchers struggle to recover from the effects of the early, deadly snowstorm.

The most recent reports have tallied livestock losses at: 13,977 cattle, 1,257 sheep, 287 horses and 40 bison.  South Dakota Animal Industry Board officials, who are maintaining the data, suspect that this count is low as there is no way to determine if every producer who sustained losses has reported them.

In a recent interview with the Rapid City Journal, Dr. Dustin Oedekoven of the SDAIB said that many of the animals died on dry land after being pummeled by rain, snow and unrelenting winds.

"They were not lying in water and their lungs were full of fluid," said Oedekoven. "There was a common thought or misconception out there that they must have breathed all that in that it must have settled in their lungs."

That's not the case, he said. Rain drenched the livestock for 12 to 18 hours before the blizzard's strong winds and wet snow delivered the killing blow.

"Those cows likely got hypothermic. They were cold," Oedekoven said.

As a result, he said, the cardiovascular systems of the cattle were working overtime, causing hypertension or high blood pressure in their lungs.

"It actually caused pulmonary edema and basically caused those lungs to fill with water or fluid," he said.

Other livestock that died that weekend succumbed from a variety of things. Some walked over steep banks or wandered into waterways or stock dams. There were reports of stock trampling each other inside shelters. In some cases, those shelters collapsed, killing animals where they stood. Ranchers also found livestock buried in snow banks. State and local sources indicate that some producers lost as much as 90 percent of their herds. 

The Atlas began with rain Thursday, Oct. 3 that soon became snow. Snow depths reached up to 31 inches in Rapid City and as high as 55 inches in Lead by the time it was over. The precipitation count shattered Rapid City’s previous October record from 1919 which was 15.1 inches.

Sustained winds reached 44 mph with gusts up to 55 mph recorded at the Rapid City airport before the sensor was knocked out of commission late Friday afternoon. Gusts reportedly reached as high as 71 mph elsewhere in the region.

BLM South Dakota Field Office Planning and Environmental Coordinator Mitch Iverson and Range Technician Jerry Moller visited some of the affected areas in Butte County, after the storm. 

“The immediate concern was with disposal of the carcasses,” said Moller. “To keep from polluting the water sources, disposal had to be at least 1,000 feet away from water bodies and streams. Counties as well as individual landowners opened up pits where the carcasses were buried.”

“Since many cattle strayed onto adjacent ranches before expiring, BLM staff assisted ranchers and landowners by reporting locations of dead livestock that they found in remote locations and assisted them with identifying alternative burial locations that would comply with local, State and Federal requirements,” said Iverson.  “BLM personnel also utilized GPS technology to assist area ranchers and landowners with the location of property lines between public and private lands in order to limit the impacts of heavy equipment on public land.”

Iverson noted that ranchers have been suffering through an extreme drought and even now hate to complain about receiving moisture.

Just east of the Black Hills the snow also damaged BLM facilities at the Fort Meade Recreation Area and Back Country Byway. Parts of the area were closed until Nov. 1 as clean-up crews removed downed tree limbs and other potential hazards. The SDFO reports that portions of the recreation area, away from the camping locations, may still have suspended limbs, unreachable to crews.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have reported to western South Dakota to document the damage. Fourteen FEMA teams were to visit 15 counties and two American Indian reservations where public infrastructure and nonprofit entities suffered damage. Damage from flooding that followed the storm was also assessed.

South Dakota's congressional delegation has referred to the estimated losses frequently while urging the passage of a farm bill, which is now being debated by a conference committee in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, rural residents continue to assess their situation.

“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,” wrote South Dakota rancher Heather Hamilton-Maude in a recent issue of Beef magazine. “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.”

Livestock producers in neighboring states have stepped up efforts to donate stock to their beleaguered comrades. An “Atlas Blizzard Ranch Relief and Aid” facebook page details the ongoing effort.

For more information, go to:

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

South Dakota Field Office   310 Roundup St.      Belle Fourche, SD 57717  

Last updated: 12-12-2013