“Atlas” was the name given to the fall snowstorm that hit parts of the Northern Plains in early October. Storm Atlas dumped up to four feet of snow on areas of western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Other nearby states also felt the effects of this early season blizzard.
This part of the country has a bounty of natural resources, and many areas are good for grazing beef cattle and other livestock. But natural disasters can also occur, and Storm Atlas hit far from the lives of most of us and the attention of major media.
According to the ModernFarmer.com website, many ranchers took a direct blow from the storm. Tens of thousands of 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.
Why were so the cattle so vulnerable? Many livestock were out on summer and fall ranges, which means away from winter pastures where shelter is better suited for winter storms. Many cattle trailed with the wind and when they found natural shelter, they became buried in the deep snowfall.
What has happened since then? Throughout October, ranchers faced the difficult task of documenting their losses and cleaning up the carcasses. It is not uncommon to have losses in ranching, but as ModernFarmer.com and other blogs have reported, imagine what it must be like to see dead cattle and horses strung out for more than 100 miles. As many have said, it is devastating.
Pastoral needs will grow
The effects of the disaster will not be mitigated any time soon. Deacon George Gladfelter of the Diocese of Rapid City reports that while those who have been hit the hardest will initially feel shock, they may later fall into deeper despair as they truly comprehend the impacts of the storm on their ranching livelihoods.
It seems that pastoral needs will grow for months to come rather than steadily decrease. Serious financial problems will befall families as their bank accounts are drawn down. Some families may even face hunger.
“Townspeople who do not understand the plight of the ranchers will need information in order to understand why a disaster that is fading from their memories is generating more needs over time rather than fewer.”
What about federal Disaster Relief programs?
Federal aid, if any at all, will likely be delayed due to the squabbles occurring in Washington, D.C. The politics surrounding the non-passage of a farm bill by the Congress is adding to the woes of those engaged in agriculture. However, it seems unlikely that, once passed, a farm bill will directly aid those growers who suffered the greatest losses of livestock.
Some people seem to feel that the financial ruin of ranching families is a natural process that should be allowed to take its course in order to avoid higher food costs and higher taxes. Deacon Gladfelter questions such analysis and sees an opportunity here to preach Christian values and realistic analysis.
He suggests that there may be an opportunity for the Church to work for reform in the insurance industry so that in the future, insurance might actually work for ranchers to mitigate the risk posed by record-breaking storms.
For now, there is an ongoing call to help in any way we can. This may begin with prayer, followed by sending words of comfort and encouragement to those families and rural communities most affected. Social media and responses to blog posting make that possible.
A further step is to provide financial support. There has been a Ranchers Relief Fund established by South Dakota stockgrowers, cattle rancher and sheep grower associations to aid the folks impacted by this storm.
We encourage you to offer your prayers, thoughts and support to those recovering from Storm Atlas.
Additional Information: The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association has a Storm Resources page that is continually updated.
The South Dakota Extension also has continual updates and resources listed on their page.