Shortly after Christmas, Winter Storm Goliath hammered the panhandle of Texas and Northeastern New Mexico, leaving drifts of snow 12 and 14 feet high in some areas. Coming from Canada, I know what snow is like and how much of a deadly force a winter storm can really be, but I have been very fortunate that my home in Alberta has not been subjected to the likes of Goliath in my lifetime.
Winter Storm Goliath will produce a blizzard tomorrow in New Mexico/northern Texas and severe storms in the South. pic.twitter.com/DclGr8BL4D
— Collin Gross (@CollinGrossWx) December 26, 2015
Tragically, across the state of Texas, 26 people lost their lives as Goliath swept across the panhandle as a very severe blizzard, and continued into central Texas as a flash-flood inducing, tornado-spawning low pressure cell. Tornadoes just south of Dallas and into Mississippi and Missouri, huge flooding in localized areas and river systems plagued central Texas and southern Missouri. The damage estimates are still climbing.
Perhaps the most severe toll of Goliath is the report out of the intensive dairy operations of the Texas panhandle and northeastern New Mexico, from Lubbock to Muleshoe, TX and around Clovis, NM. The current estimates of mature animal losses sits close to 30,000 animals. That’s 30,000 producing dairy animals. Losses of young animals may be even higher than that. As snow started to fall and wind speeds picked up across the flat, arid landscapes, cattle in pastures and drylots bunched together for warmth, and moved to fence corners and buildings for protection.
The nature of a prairie blizzard is normally not the amount of snow produced, but rather the wind and resulting drifts. On treeless high prairie, even six inches of snow can produce drifts of several feet in yards and around buildings, anywhere the wind changes directions and speeds and drops the snow it is carrying. If the storm is severe and the wind fast enough, drifts can start to form around pretty much anything, from fence posts to grouped-up cattle. The result is usually either suffocation, or death from being crushed by herdmates.
Inevitably, there will be those who blame the dairies for not doing enough to prevent the deaths and protect the livestock. However, just like the surprise winter weather that ravaged the Dakotas a few years ago, there is no amount of preparation, no amount of protection, short of underground bunkers, that will offer sufficient protection. Farmers are at the mercy of mother nature every day of every season, every year, and when the terrible weather comes, there is not much that can be done.
As these producers clean up from the devastating effects of Goliath, remember that nature is a powerful force, and farmers and ranchers are completely at the whimsy of severe weather.