Ag Weather Forum

Heavy Snow, High Winds Could Affect Cattle

Elaine Shein
By  Elaine Shein , Associate Managing Editor
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While cattle can handle cold, dry weather, it becomes a bigger challenge if a storm has freezing drizzle first, then heavy snow and wind -- like an upcoming storm is threatening to some herds. (DTN photo by ShayLe Stewart)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Cattle in the central and Northern Plains will need to deal with a "bomb cyclone" hitting them this weekend that could cause stress or even endanger them.

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Michael Palmerino described the coming storm a worst-case scenario, as cattle that are in fields will have significant exposure to deteriorating weather conditions today and tomorrow.

"They can handle cold weather well, as long as it is dry," he explained. However, the forecast is rain, or worse -- freezing drizzle -- followed by heavy snow sticking to their coats and skin, along with high winds for an extended time. Palmerino said this could cause hypothermia and later respiratory issues.

Winter storm watches and warnings were already issued by early Friday morning from the National Weather Service, and there are blizzard warnings for parts of the Northern Plains. Palmerino said this started as a major storm off the Pacific Ocean, which brought a lot of rain to the West Coast, along with heavy snow in the mountains. It is moving across the Central Rockies and will hit the northwest Corn Belt and Northern Plains Friday into Saturday.

Potentially heavy snow, blowing snow and blizzard conditions are expected for western South Dakota and most of North Dakota. The snow could exceed a foot in some areas, Palmerino said. NWS said the Black Hills could get up to almost 2 feet of snow.

Parts of Minnesota and Nebraska will also be affected -- western Nebraska could have freezing rain tonight, then 3-6 inches of snow during the day Saturday on top of that, Palmerino said. Northeast Nebraska could get freezing rain, but lighter snow, possibly 1-3 inches.

Travel and transportation is expected to be shut down on Saturday from blowing and drifting snow causing whiteout conditions. Winds are forecast on Saturday to be 20-30 miles per hour, with gusts of 40-50 mph. The winds should die down by Sunday afternoon or evening.


Palmerino said this storm could be called a "bomb cyclone," similar to what was seen earlier this year in the Plains. He said the term describes the rapid intensification of a non-tropical cyclonic low-pressure area. The "bombing" occurs when a low pressure system's central pressure falls 24 millibars in 24 hours or less.

He said clearly it looks like the pressure will be dropping substantially in the next 24 hours. He described this latest storm as "very energetic, with a tremendous amount of energy," adding the warm sea surface conditions in the Pacific Ocean are contributing to this major shift in storminess in the Pacific. "They tend to have a lot of support," and led to this storm being "in the same category of cyclones we had in the spring."

Compared to spring, however, there are two things that help cattlemen -- it's not calving season and the temperatures aren't very low. However, the storm will affect hog producers trying to get their animals to market if the roads are closed.


DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart said the weather this fall has been unruly and caused duress as it goes from calm to stormy; temperatures rise and fall quite a bit from one day to the next and there have been high winds. She said this is particularly hard for recently weaned calves.

She added this storm will affect sale barn numbers, as people can't travel to barns because of bad roads or having problems backing up their trucks at the barns. There will also be fewer people attending the sales.

She added that people who buy calves that went through storms like this upcoming one might find the need to take care of sick calves in the weeks that follow.

As for steers, with the bad weather they need more feed and don't convert well. Feedlots will need more feed for them and this could affect trade. "This will affect countryside prices," Stewart said.

Another way that this type of weather affects cattle is if it warms up again and the snow melts, the feedlots and pastures become muddy.

"Packers like to whittle prices down if the cattle are muddy," she said, adding that there might also be more illness in muddy feedlots.

"It might make for a long winter if you're already doctoring cattle that are sick," she said.


As for the storm's impact on late crops, Palmerino noted that it will "absolutely be affecting the Dakotas," which the last USDA weekly crop progress report showed had a large amount of the crop still waiting to be harvested. The report from Nov. 25 reported only 30% of North Dakota's corn had been harvested and 89% of the soybeans. South Dakota had 68% of its corn off.

Some farmers were able to harvest more of their crop this week, "but you're not going to get 70% of your corn off in a few days," Palmerino stressed, adding that farmers may need to wait until spring to get the rest of their corn off, and may take a loss on whatever is left of their soybeans in the field.


As for what is coming up, Palmerino said there are plenty of storm systems lined up in the Pacific Ocean. While there is still some uncertainty, indications are that by Thursday night there may be another storm system, although it may take a more southern route almost missing the Northern Plains. This would be mainly a rain event and could reach the Southern Plains and southern and eastern Midwest.

Elaine Shein can be reached at



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