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After the early October snowstorm stopped, farmers and ranchers were left with massive drifts to clear. Photo taken Oct. 13, 2019, north of Medina, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

The Sorting Pen: Surviving the storm and the calm before it

Had we not had weather forecasts, Tuesday would have been a beautiful day. Wednesday would have seemed like a pretty typical early fall day, a little dreary and blustery.

But we had an idea of what was coming, thanks to meteorologists. And so my husband spent all of the day and night of that beautiful Oct. 8 baling what hay he could bale and hauling some home on our south-central North Dakota farm. He had help from our pastor and a neighbor, and he kept going on pure adrenaline, trying to get as much done as he could before the snow hit. I took a photo of the sunset over the farm in the peaceful, calm evening. It was a perfect before picture.

That cool, wet Wednesday saw us scrambling. I ran for groceries before joining Brandon in the pasture to move cattle to sheltered areas. By the time everything was settled in, we were soaked through our insulated coveralls and cold and tired and uncertain. There were so many more things we could have done, but there are only so many hours and only so much energy to expend. So, we hunkered down in the house with our girls, a tight knot in our stomachs as we waited to see how bad the storm would really be.

It was, as you probably know now, bad. The first "wave" brought some wind and nearly half a foot of snow. After a little lull, Friday roared in with snow and wind that wouldn't stop until the following evening.

When it was all said and done, I think there probably was about 18 inches of snow on the ground. It's hard to say for sure; some places were nearly completely bare and others had massive drifts, some easily more than 6-feet high.

The cattle seem to have made it through OK. What remains to be seen, for us and all of the other farmers and ranchers around us, is the outcome in the fields. With such a wet season, from spring to fall, our haying has been slow and difficult. The corn remains to be chopped for silage; all the choppers in the area are behind because of the continuously wet conditions. For our farmer neighbors, many acres of crops remain to be combined. It's been a difficult growing season, and this snow seems likely to deplete a lot of quality.

This is all devastating in what has already been a difficult year. Prices are bad. Planting was late. Growing season was poor. I think we'd all like to just put it behind us.

But I am a little thankful, even with all that loss. I think back to the storms that hit decades or centuries earlier, when there were no meteorologists sounding the alarms. That beautiful Tuesday could have lulled us into being out in the field or out on the road. We'd never have thought to move the cows or put out some feed. The losses of life, both animal and human, could have been far more devastating than anything we've lost in the fields.

So, while it's bad, it could have been worse. And now, we just need a warm up before the real winter starts so we can take care of a little more of the fall work.

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