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Snow moved into central North Dakota on the morning of Oct. 10. Photo taken near Medina, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Farmers, ranchers scramble to prepare as storm bears down

As what weather forecasters were calling a "potentially historic" October storm moved into the region, farmers and ranchers scrambled to combine crops, bale or move hay, move cattle and prepare for winter earlier than they would have liked.

Snow started falling in Montana on Wednesday, Oct. 9, and moved toward the Dakotas on Thursday. The storm was expected to stretch into parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Minnesota, as well as parts of Canada.

While snow in October is not unheard of in the region, the National Weather Service has called the storm "potentially historic" because of its expected strength and duration.

In Montana, the storm on Wednesday dumped about 24 inches near the unincorporated town of Pony in Madison County, 18 inches near Helena and 16 inches in Fishtail, with numerous reports of half a foot to a foot across the state, according to the weather service.

Katelyn Dynneson-Larson of Sidney, Mont., says they only got a "skiff of snow mixed with freezing rain" in eastern Montana as they tried to chop corn.

"But it's made a mess of our fields and harvest is going really poorly," she says.

In much of North Dakota, Wednesday was a day of preparations and safety planning, as well as harvesting whatever could be harvested ahead of the storm.

Sara VandeHoven Hinrichs, in Foster County, N.D., says Wednesday was spent moving cows to sheltered areas and moving hay.

"Just hoping and praying for the best," she says. "Keeping all our fellow farmers and ranchers in our prayers."

By Friday morning, parts of North Dakota had half a foot to a foot of snow. North central North Dakota, including Rugby, Devils Lake, Harvey, Bottineau and Langdon were in a blizzard warning as high winds blew the falling snow.

Parts of southwestern South Dakota were seeing heavy snow by Thursday afternoon. Whitewood had 9 inches, Lead had 8.5 and Rapid City had 8, according to National Weather Service reports.

Road conditions across much of North Dakota had deteriorated by early Thursday afternoon as the first wave of the storm moved in. Parts of central and eastern North Dakota are expected to get 18-24 inches of snow, with even higher totals predicted toward northeastern parts of the state near the Canadian border.

Richard Wileman in Russell, Manitoba, reported 5 inches of snow had fallen on Oct. 9, with more on the way. He estimated harvest was 50% completed in his area.

Minnesota isn't supposed to be hit quite as hard as the Dakotas, but rain, snow and colder conditions are expected. Lucas Rabe, in Rochester, Minn., says many farmers in southeastern Minnesota were combining beans Tuesday and Wednesday before the cold and wet weather began.

"Rochester, Minnesota, is at record rainfall for the year," he says.

Even with that, he says soybeans dried down nicely considering the more than 3 inches of rain that fell the week prior. His first two fields ran 65 bushels per acre.

Colder temperatures even were expected to extend into other Midwestern states farther south, potentially ending the growing season in places that need more time to see crops reach maturity. Gary Bruns says it was 60 degrees in eastern Iowa Thursday afternoon, but temperatures were expected to drop below freezing in the coming days.

"And a lot of corn is NOT ready for this," he says.

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