By Mary C. Hunt
It’s got a name — Ulmer.
The blizzard of 2019, Ulmer, packed a mighty wallop, hitting South Dakota with hurricane force winds, flooding and heavy snowfall. With no official snowfall depth numbers for Bennett County from the National Weather Service, it is hard to say how much snow the county received. However, NWS reports Kadoka received 18.3 inches, Interior received 18, Okreek received 16 and Norris received 15. Locally one resident estimated 16 inches near her place. Drifting snow added to the misery and created impassable roads everywhere.
“We are a small County. We rely on help from local first responders, agencies, and local people. Everyone pitches in when needed,” stated Jeff Siscoe, Bennett County’s Emergency Manager.
Siscoe has been in contact with 26 agencies before, during and since the winter storm, including the Red Cross, Martin Volunteer Fire Department, Bennett County Sheriff and private individuals with heavy equipment, who could provide assistance. “I appreciate the assistance of the multiple agencies that worked with us during the response to Winter Storm Ulmer.” He described this effort as “consequence management.” During the storm, Siscoe said there were three ambulance calls and one fire call to Manderson that could not be responded to by the local firefighters.
Siscoe is aware of 15 motorists who were stranded. Twelve were stranded at Boomdocks, having traveled somehow from I-90 (after it closed) south to the Allen Road behind a snowplow before getting stuck at Boomdocks because US Highway 18 was impassable. Between the snow on the roads and an 18-wheeler that got stuck on Hwy. 18 (blocking the road), these cars, from states including Florida, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas, couldn’t go anywhere, leaving their drivers and passengers stuck, some for more than 24 hours. Siscoe shared, “For their own safety, people really need to pay attention to weather and road condition reports, and heed what they say.”
Chris O’Bryan, Martin Firechief, using the big orange front-end loader from O’Bryan Construction, went out on Thursday night to free the 18-wheeler and cleared a single lane for the twelve cars to come into Martin where some of the people checked in to Crossroads for the remainder of the storm.
Another motorist heading east got stuck and was assisted by a nearby rancher in the Vetal/Todd County line area. Of rescue situations like this, Siscoe said, “This is South Dakota. When someone needs help, someone helps them. And that was truly the case during this storm.”
According to Siscoe, one issue faced by the road crews once the storm started to subside was motorists getting on the roads before the all-clear was given complicating the snow removal efforts.
While south and east of Bennett County there is severe flooding, nearby, as of Friday, there was only minor flooding from blocked culverts, according to Siscoe.
Jeff Siscoe encouraged community members to share anecdotes about their extraordinary experiences from the blizzard with him for the Hazard Mitigation Plan process but he stressed that during an emergency, 911 is the call to make so that all events are logged by the dispatch.
Bennett County Commissioner Judd Schomp told the Booster that the County Commissioners for Bennett County and officials from Oglala Lakota and Jackson counties have been trying to get the State of South Dakota to include the counties in the emergency declaration which Governor Noem office issued but thus far this has not happened. In addition to Schomp’s calls to the State including to Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, at least Rod Kirk and Steve Livermont, District 27 Legislator, have also been making calls. Schomp stated that Bennett County has contracted with Doug O’Bryan Contracting, and others with equipment, to clear the county’s roads. Funds, which might be made available through inclusion in the State’s emergency declaration, would reimburse the cost for the supplemental road clearing. Schomp commended the work of Terry Smokov, the new Highway Superintendent, and the County Road Crew but said there are just so many roads to clear that additional help was needed. He said, “It is amazing how everyone is coming together to help their neighbors.”
Many businesses around the county closed at midday Wednesday and stayed closed through Thursday. Based on the forecast, Security First Bank did not open on Wednesday and remained closed on Thursday. Joan Risse with Security First reported that this is the first time employees can recall the bank closing for two days. She said the ATM did not run out of cash while the bank was closed.
Other businesses reported some changes in their customers’ shopping habits. True Value sold out of ice melt, shovels and heaters, while Ace saw an increase in sump pump, shop vac, heaters, and ice melt sales before the storm and shovels after the storm.
Joyce Wilson at Martin Drug said that they closed midday Wednesday and did not see an increase in business prior to closing, however, on Friday when the store reopened, the pharmacy counter was very busy.
At GE Associates, Sue Lewis-Nies said that, prior to their closing on Wednesday late in the morning, ranchers were coming in to pick up extra electrolytes and colostrum for their new calves and those they expected to arrive during the storm.
Josh Fanning, Interim General Manager at Lacreek Electric, said that during the storm there were sparse outages around their service area. However, the widespread outage that happened on Saturday afternoon was attributed to ice leftover from Ulmer.
Paul Noel, Martin City Foreman, commended his team and their partners, especially Kenny Rosane’s crew, with their work through the blizzard and during its aftermath. He stated that they’ve been working 15 hour days to deal with all the snow. Noel said in his twenty years that this is the worst storm he’s seen. He said, “Thank you to the residents for your patience as we cleared snow from the streets.” Noel also expressed gratitude to Rapid City Airport for the donation of the front end loader which was a huge help in the snow removal effort. “It would have been tough without two loaders,” Noel shared. He expects to have the streets in Martin cleared of snow by Friday, March 22.
Possibly no group was impacted more than the local ranchers and farmers, many of whom are in the middle of calving season. Mike Goetzinger with the Farm Service Agency said that the office is getting calls of loss, primarily of calves, so briskly that the they barely get them recorded before the phone rings again. “Winter Storm Ulmer was a significant storm event for our producers,” stated Goetzinger. He encourages producers to call in their losses as soon as possible, since the Livestock Indemnity Program allows 30 days from occurrence or until the loss is apparent to notify the FSA.
One rancher shared their story:
“We knew the storm was coming so we tried to prepare the best we could. We had pairs to worry about as older calves can be trampled by the cows. The pasture we moved our pairs into had a lot of protection but Wednesday morning I could see from my kitchen window that Bear Creek was flooding and where we had bedded the pairs down was under water. We scrambled to move the pairs to higher ground before the snow and wind really kicked up. We had never held pairs in this area during a storm so we were unsure of what the consequences would be. It began snowing around 9 a.m. and by 11 p.m. Wednesday evening we could no longer get to the calving cows to check. They were bunched so badly that it was impossible to get a look at every cow. We waited until daylight to do anymore checking. We lost one calf that was born during the storm and trampled on.
“Our heifer pairs were locked in a corral with a lot of windbreak. We ended up losing a couple there — they too were trampled. It could have been much worse. Nonetheless it is sickening when you loose livestock to Mother Nature.”