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Monday, July 7, 2014

Extreme weather takes heavy toll

by Mark Mendiola - WLJ Correspondent

Extremely adverse weather has lashed the Upper Midwest in recent weeks, unleashing tornadoes, heavy hail, unusual cold and flooding on states such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio just as farmers are itching to get their tractors into fields and crops planted.

Within two days of each other in mid-June, destructive twisters ripped through Nebraska and South Dakota, leveling farm communities and wreaking frightening havoc.

Large, violent, unusual twin tornadoes slammed into Pilger, NE, killing two, critically injuring a dozen and virtually wiping the town off the map, with one EF4 twister clocked with wind speeds of 166 to 200 miles per hour. The magnitude of those powerful twin tornadoes was rare.

Only two days later, a tornado struck the south central South Dakota town of Wessington Springs, about 100 miles northwest of Sioux Falls, briefly trapping people in their homes, damaging 11 houses and three businesses.

On Monday, June 30, two tornadoes, vehement thunderstorms and hail afflicted Iowa, killing at least one man, destroying property and flooding roadways—a day after five twisters struck the previous Sunday night.

The Midwest experienced nearly a week of wet, stormy weather.

Hail as large as four inches in diameter and wind flattened corn crops. Six inches of rain inundated Cedar Rapids from 10 p.m. Sunday, June 29, through noon Monday, June 30. Wind gusts of 80 mph. were reported.

The precipitation has been a stark contrast for Iowa, which saw drought conditions in the summers of 2012 and 2013, and abnormally dry years in 2010 and 2011, but some fear too much of a good drenching may be swinging to the other extreme.

The Iowa Beef Center and Iowa State University are helping cattle producers to shift from drought conditions to extremely wet and flood conditions, including water-logged facilities, flooded pastures, full earthen basins and financial concerns.

Cattle raisers need to monitor spilled pesticides, fuel or oil spills and flooded grain bins, in addition to checking electrical equipment, the structural strength of livestock buildings and the safety of water systems.

Debris should be removed from pastures and cattle returned to them when the ground is dry and solid once again. Returning them too soon can result in trampled pastures and damaged plants. If pastures or hay ground are eroded or covered with silt or sand, they may need to be reseeded.

Flood conditions also can affect the health of animals. Livestock producers are urged to watch for symptoms of lameness, fever, breathing difficulty, muscle contractions or swelling of shoulders, chest, back neck or throat.

Severe storms were expected to persist through the start of July in the Upper Midwest, but drought conditions were to continue in Texas and California. Too much rain has fallen across the upper and northern Plains and into the Upper Midwest, a USDA meteorologist said.

California’s three-year drought is expected to extend through at least November and December. West Texas and neighboring areas have been in drought since the fall of 2010. Twelve to 18 inches of rain would be needed during the summer months to emerge from the drought—or nearly a year’s worth of precipitation for that region.

More heavy rain and storms in the central U.S. and Canada were forecast for the weekend following the Fourth of July causing rivers to swell and farm lands to be covered with excessive water, which farmers say is doing serious damage to crops. Flooding on the Big Sioux, Rock and other rivers is hurting farmers in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Like the U.S. Corn Belt, Saskatchewan also is unusually suffering from too much water, leaving the ground soaked and causing mold and fungus to proliferate. About 160 miles north of Minot, ND, six inches of rain fell within 24 hours, devastating crops, roads and homes.

Normally, that Canadian province gets 10 to 12 inches of rain per season, not 50 percent of it in one day. The area has received nearly 200 percent of its normal annual rain. One analyst said a two-year drought will be needed to drain surface water ponds and lakes, and restore saturated ground to normal.

South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal remarked: “We’ve had a little bit of everything. It started out cold and wet right during planting season, causing a delay. The weather didn’t warm up until the first of June. One area reportedly received 10 inches in one event. There have been a lot of ponding and flooding issues.”

A terrible freak blizzard last fall in western South Dakota destroyed 35,000- 40,000 head of cattle, VanderWal told the Western Livestock Journal. The winter also was unusually cold and hard, and the spring was cold and wet.

“You really don’t recuperate from something like that. A few won’t make it. They lost almost their entire herd. For others, a farm program came through in time to save them. … Those guys who lost nearly their entire herds have nothing to sell.”

One benefit of recent healthy doses of rain has been ranch land and wheat country looking green in the Black Hills region. “They’re getting hay and pasture like they’ve never seen before.”

South Dakota’s agriculture economy is very good with corn, beans and wheat fetching high prices and cattle being sold at record levels, VanderWal said, but the state’s south central section remains dry.

Jay Rempe, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said his state has experienced high winds and tornadoes in some areas, and widespread hail damage.

Recent twisters struck feedlots in northeastern Nebraska, killing up to an estimated 2,000 head of cattle. A few egg laying houses also got hit, killing chickens. As many as 500 irrigation pivots were blown over in one area.

“What’s been odd this year is it has forced a lot to make decisions about replanting,” Rempe told WLJ. “Some haven’t been able to get back into fields.”

In the meantime, while pastures are greening in much of the state and most of it has moved out of critical drought, the lower part of the state remains abnormally dry. Flash flooding has been very limited. Forecasts call for Nebraska to be a little cooler and moisture a little higher, Rempe said.

Corn and soybeans, Nebraska’s main crops, are looking good. However, “wheat is going to be a struggle this year because when it was planted last fall it went in very dry. Over the winter, moisture did not come in soon enough,” he said.

The USDA reported June 25 that U.S. consumers face higher prices for oranges and other fresh fruit because of adverse weather and widespread disease in Florida and California. Fresh fruit prices are projected to climb between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, a sharp increase over its estimate last month of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

U.S. retail food prices have risen for six straight months since December 2013. The USDA said it expects food prices to rise as much as 3.5 percent for the year, the biggest gain in three years. It raised its forecast for dairy prices after an especially cold winter curbed milk output in the Midwest. It warned the prolonged drought in California could have significant, lasting effects on dairy, egg, fruit and vegetable prices. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent

 
 


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