South Dakota Blizzard Victims Continue Clean-Up

South Dakota cowboy J.B. Lord was just one of those who lost horses in the unexpected early-fall blizzard that blasted western Nebraska and South Dakota on October 4.

Seeking relief from that wind and blinding snow, Lord’s 21-year-old roping horse, Baywatch, perished after he walked over a snowbank covering the fence that surrounded his shelter. “He must have gotten delirious and gotten lost,” Lord said.

Lord, who was in Texas at his son Eli’s college rodeo during the storm, is thankful that his other son, Levi, who remained at home in South Dakota, decided not to go out looking for Baywatch, their 2012 Badlands Circuit Heading Horse of the Year. “He wouldn’t have made it back to the house,” Lord said.

Dubbed Winter Storm Atlas, the freak snowstorm dumped several feet of snow driven by winds up to 70 miles per hour. As of Oct. 15, ranchers have reported 36 horses dead in South Dakota alone.

Ranchers still struggle to assess losses and damage, and remove the carcasses of horses, cattle, and sheep that died in the storm. Counties are coordinating livestock carcass drop points, and over this past weekend, Pennington County, S.D., transported carcasses from county rights-of-way to drop points.

A Pennington County Emergency Management Agency representative said that although the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t yet been out to witness the devastation, South Dakota's governor has requested disaster relief. However, the federal government shutdown isn’t helping recovery efforts. Senator John Thune of South Dakota said that disaster declarations are made on a county by county basis, and that counties—specifically each county’s emergency manager, according to South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s General Counsel Courtney De La Rosa—must prove a 30% loss of a certain commodity to qualify for the designation.

While some ranchers might have lost that percentage as individuals, the losses per county are less clear at this point. The additional rain late last week and 6-10 inches more snow that fell Monday (Oct. 14) night into Tuesday have hampered ranchers’ efforts to assess damage and loss, and to haul in heavy equipment to dispose of carcasses.

If you’d like to provide assistance for affected farmers and ranchers, livestock producer organizations have set up a fund at (search for "Rancher Relief Fund"). In South Dakota or Nebraska, phone 211 to reach a call center that coordinates resources and needs. Individuals outside those states can phone, toll-free, 877/708-4357.

About the Author

Diane E. Rice

Diane E. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then melded her education and her lifelong passion for horses in an editorial position at Appaloosa Journal. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer and has served on American Horse Publications’ board of directors. Rice spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and with her daughters, grandchildren, and pets.

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