Between October 3–5, 2013, an unusually early blizzard smothered northeastern Wyoming and western South Dakota with wet, heavy snow—not to mention rain, hail, thunderstorms, and even tornadoes. In South Dakota’s Black Hills, the storm dropped more than three feet (90 centimeters) of snow in some areas, knocking out power for about 25,000 people and killing tens of thousands of cattle.
Cattle—which had not yet grown the thick winter coats that allow them survive winters—were grazing in unprotected summer pastures when the storm hit. Many animals simply froze to death or suffocated after being soaked by freezing rain and then buried by snow. About 15 to 20 percent of South Dakota’s cattle may have been killed, according to the South Dakota Growers Association. Warmer weather and rain right after the blizzard then complicated cleanup efforts, melting much of the snow and leaving farms coated with so much mud that fields and roads were impassable for days.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired an image (top) of the snowfall on October 6, 2013. A swath of fresh snow stretches from western Wyoming and northern Nebraska through western South Dakota into the southwestern corner of North Dakota. The Black Hills, though they received some of the heaviest snow, appear slightly darker because they are forested. As seen by a MODIS sensor on Aqua, only the Black Hills remained coated in white by October 16.
References and Further Reading
- Time (2013, October 16) Freak Blizzard Kills Tens of Thousands of South Dakota Cattle—and Washington Does Nothing. Accessed October 18, 2013.
- Bloomberg (2013, October 17) Cattle Death Toll From South Dakota Blizzard to Climb to 20,000. Accessed October 18, 2013.
- NOAA (2013, October) October 2-5, 2013 Blizzard over northeast Wyoming and western South Dakota. Accessed October 18, 2013.
- The New York Times (2013, October 17) South Dakota Ranchers Face Storm's Toll, but U.S. Helping Hands Are Tied. Accessed October 18, 2013.
- The Weather Channel (2013, October 17) Snowmelt Turns South Dakota into a Soggy Mess. Accessed October 18, 2013.