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Not just another freak snowstorm
October 12, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

"...Winter Storm Atlas took a huge toll on folks in Western South Dakota earlier this month. With reports of up to 58″ of snow and almost hurricane-force winds, South Dakotans were struck hard with an early season blizzard of historic proportions...Estimates are that upwards of 70,000 cattle, horses, and livestock perished in the storm. That means many ranchers lost all of this year’s calf crop and a good majority of their cow herds...I’ve encountered many losses in ranching, having several cattle at once struck dead by lightning, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to see dead cattle and horses strung out for more than 100 miles."

I Feel Angry: The Repercussions of Storm "Atlas": How is it that something so superficial as a “fluffy cow” caught the attention of the nation, and yet something so devastating as thousands of animals dying from a natural disaster can’t make the headlines? Should Perez Hilton be contacted?

Questioning Cattle Deaths in South Dakota: Jody at Pretty Work provides a FAQ.

Updates and resources from the South Dakota Extension.

Warning: The Agriculture Proud link has a terrific roundup of both blog and media coverage of Winter Storm Atlas, but the blog roundup in particular includes graphic photography of dead livestock.
posted by bakerina (35 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
No one had their cattle off of the summer pastures, because storms of this intensity at this early in the year are very rare. Not only were the ranchers not prepared, but the cattle weren’t either; none of them had the winter hair coats that they usually have during storms of this caliber. . . I feel angry…that mother-nature has to be such a b*tch.

Yeah. Me too. This makes me sick. But I'm not angry at mother nature. Because, let's be honest here, we know it's not entirely her fault, right?
posted by The Bellman at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


My heart goes out.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:45 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


we know it's not entirely her fault, right?

"not entirely", or "not at all"

The idea that humans have some sort of control, or special privilege or whatever when it comes to weather, or celestial events, is silly, silly, silly.

This blizzard certainly was devastating, and it's impact is huge on the people who live in the area, I wouldn't discount that at all.

The point to make is that weather is weather and we live on a planet where it could blizzard in Oct., earthquakes whenever, flood more than its flooded in 1,000 years - so on and so forth. That's just the reality of it all. Anything else is just us believing differently. We have to accept that, rather than blame some bizarre anthropomorphized idea. The Gods aren't after us. Things around us aren't 100% predicable.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not to threadsit, but I just noticed I phrased the "warning" section badly. The photographs of dead livestock are not on Agriculture Proud's page, but on the blogs he lists in the blog roundup. He also has a graphic-content warning right over the roundup, which I appreciated.
posted by bakerina at 10:56 AM on October 12, 2013


The point to make is that weather is weather and we live on a planet where it could blizzard in Oct.
Well also climate change models predict increased volatility and violence of weather systems in general. Obviously it's not as simple as saying "atlas and sandy are the fault of climate change," but you can make a pretty good argument that we wouldn't be having storms of this magnitude this frequently if we hadn't pumped as much extra energy into the system as we have.
posted by kavasa at 10:58 AM on October 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


I know it seems heartless to say it but this is a business loss rather than an emotional tragedy. The livestock is only live until it is killed. The problem is that the deaths occurred at the wrong time and place rather than that they occurred. The farmers will have insurance unless they are extremely poor at the risk management side of their business. Prioritizing expenses is a very weak excuse to not have business insurance. Those that don't have insurance gambled on a higher profit margin and now they are feeling the pain of the gamble. It is sad but also fairly predictable.
posted by srboisvert at 11:01 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, thank you kavasa. That was my point, made with more grace and less snark.
posted by The Bellman at 11:01 AM on October 12, 2013




The idea that humans have some sort of control, or special privilege or whatever when it comes to weather, or celestial events, is silly, silly, silly.

The notion that humans have not impacted the global environment, including the weather, is wishful thinking, however.

This headline from two years ago bears repeating: Climate Change Will Bring More Monster Winter Storms. The mechanism is straightforward, even if the results are chaotic in the precise use of the term. Simply put, a warmer climate means more moisture in the atmosphere, which leads to increased condensation adding more energy to storm systems. That includes not only rainfall in the summer but also blizzards in the winter.

Sometimes, we'll be lucky with the weather—North Dakota was with a warmer, drier 2011-12 season—but we've increased the odds of the calamitous when we're not.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:16 AM on October 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Interesting. I didn't know that winter storms have names, but I just learned that thanks to the Weather Channel, they do. Of course up here in Canada we just call it Winter.
posted by salishsea at 11:25 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


As someone living in North Dakota, I would agree with Dokter Zed. The 2011-12 was a wonder, especially considering the previous winter was a stone cold bitch. And 2012-13 was not kind. We've got a ton of transplants roaming around here due to the oil boom and some of them actually thought 11-12 was our normal winter. The following winter slapped them upside the head real good.

I've seen some tough winters up here but I have no doubt that climate change is to blame for our horrendous storms. Yeah, we get blizzards but not with the frequency we've seen in the last few years. And early (or late) in the season storms like Atlas were far less the norm as well. Hell, yesterday we had almost two inches of rain in one day and that is very unusual for the season. We had to do a lot of driving yesterday, dodging oil tankers that hadn't a clue on how to drive regardless of the weather. My wife kept whispering "at least it isn't snow, at least it isn't snow".
posted by Ber at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know it seems heartless to say it but this is a business loss rather than an emotional tragedy. The livestock is only live until it is killed.

Not the horses and the breeding stock. Those can't just be replaced by going out and buying new ones. Huge blow to the ranch operations.
posted by fshgrl at 11:35 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's wrong when climate change deniers use warm spells in February as "evidence" to back up their claims, and it's just as wrong to use freak October snow storms to argue the other side.
"Weather is not climate" works both ways.
posted by rocket88 at 11:37 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Poor cattle - trying to survive in snow far too deep for them to move and hurricane-force winds. For ranchers, it's a huge economic loss, and for every small-time rancher that moves to town, there's probably a giant agri-business buying the land. It's very likely that when Congress comes back, they'll provide some aid. The Dakotas are red states, after all.

Mainstream media kind of ignored this. Maybe the local stations had crappy footage, or Miley Cyrus did something, or who knows. It should be possible to get really good news reports, but it seems like reruns, most evenings.
posted by theora55 at 11:43 AM on October 12, 2013


I remember when Hurricane Floyd came through eastern NC. Many pigs drowned. It was horrible to see the photos of them trying to take refuge on the roofs of farm buildings; they dread the rising water as much as I would.
posted by thelonius at 11:49 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Frankie knew the storm was coming.

Frankie is awesome!
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 AM on October 12, 2013


The idea that humans have some sort of control, or special privilege or whatever when it comes to weather, or celestial events, is silly, silly, silly.

Direct control, no. Of course not. But to imagine that 100 years of industrial revolution and burning stuff isn't going to influence the weather in some way is also silly.
posted by gjc at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2013


That storm system was nuts. My mom was out in Rapid City, SD with no power sending me photos of three-foot drifts in her yard while I was in the basement waiting out a tornado warning in Sioux City, IA. Different ends of the same storm system, 70,000 dead livestock on one side and a mile-wide tornado touchdown on the other.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's wrong when climate change deniers use warm spells in February as "evidence" to back up their claims, and it's just as wrong to use freak October snow storms to argue the other side. "Weather is not climate" works both ways.

This is basically true, but with some nuances. For one, as others have mentioned climate change models do predict increased volatility in weather patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather events. Counterintuitively, this means that both unseasonably cold and unseasonably warm weather fit the predictions of climate change modelers. What climate change models predict, at the very broadest scale, is an overall increase in mean global temperature along with increased weather volatility.

You're right though that it's not correct to generalize from any one weather event to the conclusion that climate change is/isn't happening. What we can do though is track the frequency of extreme weather events over time and see if it's increasing, which (with proper study design) can be used to help support or reject climate change models. People are doing that research, and while I'm not familiar with the specifics (not a climatologist over here) my understanding is that the frequency of major weather events has indeed been increasing in a way that is suggestive but not yet conclusive. Here's a chart which shows the possible trend.

Anyway, that's a long way of saying that while it's obviously silly to use any one patch of odd weather to say that climate change is/isn't "real", we can definitely use weather tracking, in aggregate, to help us judge how accurate our climate change predictions are. The problem is, doing so sort of requires waiting for "predictions" to turn into "realities".
posted by Scientist at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


rocket88, I'm not sure what your objection is? No one said "climate change, therefore atlas." What is widely agreed upon is that climate change is leading to increased severity and frequency of extreme events. Atlas is another data point, joining numerous other data points, confirming that prediction.
posted by kavasa at 12:24 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My point is that using a single storm to bring up climate change kind of validates and encourages the other side to do the same, and contributes to the mistaken idea that there are two comparable sides to the "debate".
If the topic of the post was the increased frequency of extreme storms, then climate change comments wouldn't be a derail. This is about one storm and its immediate impact...but I guess keeping comments on topic isn't my job, so I'll just leave it be.
( and yeah, my original comment used a bad example...it's during cool summers that the deniers are at their worst.)
posted by rocket88 at 12:58 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tried to give $10 to the relief fund, but it won't accept less than $20 as far as I can see. Any alternatives? Paypal preferred.
posted by aesop at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2013


With the high price of fuel and hay the past few years, paying for insurance was likely the difference between having a chance of making some money and being certain to lose money for a lot of people.

Raising cattle is an interesting business. A person can pretty easily keep a well paying town job that will keep the mortgage and bills paid and raise 50 head of cattle on the side for extra cash. Grow larger, though, and it becomes a full time job of its own. The point being that, unusually, the little people are the ones least hurt by this. They probably could afford insurance, for one thing, and it is just extra money to them, not the entirety of their income.
posted by wierdo at 1:58 PM on October 12, 2013


Normally, we'd see Congress step in right quick with a relief bill. Agri-business gets to socialize its losses almost as much as banking and medicine.

Real shame there's no government.
posted by spitbull at 2:42 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


But I'm not angry at mother nature. Because, let's be honest here, we know it's not entirely her fault, right?

Mother nature is like a beehive. The bees might sting you, and they might not. Who knows why they do what they do?

Humanity is like an eight-year-old kid with a stick.
posted by Slothrup at 2:51 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


rocket, I don't know what else to say to you? My first comment explicitly doesn't do that and explicitly ties it into a pattern. And it's worth talking about because the basic point of argument is that amelioration costs money, while just ignoring the problem looks like it's free. The reality, that it's way more expensive than amelioration is something to be talked about.

"But this summer was cool*" sorts of arguments are an entirely separate thing and are addressed with temperature data going back many decades.

*this summer was unbelievably hot and continued a trend of drought in the midwest, of course
posted by kavasa at 3:20 PM on October 12, 2013


AFAIK, spitbull, large agribusiness doesn't do much ranching. It's mostly individual ranchers. Agribusiness is responsible for the enormous feedlots, not cows roaming fields as they please.
posted by wierdo at 3:43 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wierdo, that's not exactly true. J.R. Simplot has many, many thousands of cattle, spread out across multiple states as well as owning feedlots, and I understand that company is pretty well small potatoes* in the agribiz world.

Anyone who has read some history of settlements in Montana and the Dakotas knows about blizzards that piled cattle into the fences and caused farmers to suffocate or starve in their dugouts.

What's really scary is that the mega-blizzards of the future will be even worse.

*sorry, bad pun
posted by BlueHorse at 4:00 PM on October 12, 2013


Oh sure now South Dakotans want east coast media liberals to care about them and a big government snow plough. Perhaps if John Thune R-SD hadn't shut the govermemt down we'd have been better able to help.
posted by humanfont at 5:48 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I didn't know that winter storms have names, but I just learned that thanks to the Weather Channel, they do.

And if we keep repeating their silly names, we only end up encouraging them.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:50 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


being in the east now, but being from the praries before, i am not suprised but dismayed how much play this got in the medium, esp. considering how reatively minor sandy was. this is a catastrophe
posted by PinkMoose at 6:59 PM on October 12, 2013


It's wrong when climate change deniers use warm spells in February as "evidence" to back up their claims, and it's just as wrong to use freak October snow storms to argue the other side.
"Weather is not climate" works both ways.


It's wrong when someone attributes a single Barry Bonds home run to steroids.

It's not wrong to suggest that steroids make the Red Sox pennant wins suspect.

It's wrong to attribute one blizzard to climate change.
It's not wrong when a particularly freaky season hits the Great Plains.

It's not wrong when insurance companies are discontinuing policies on account of these events.
posted by ocschwar at 7:30 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if we keep repeating their silly names, we only end up encouraging them.

I actually think it's pretty useful. Instead of having to refer to that third blizzard of 2013, now you can say Winter Storm Gamma and everyone knows exactly what storm you're talking about.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:33 PM on October 12, 2013


Guys, I know the man responsible for all of this bad weather, and he said he was sorry.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:29 PM on October 12, 2013


It was Bruce McCulloch, wasn't it? He was just on a roll.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:11 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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