Livestock: What Did We Learn From El Nino Winter Storm?

Now that the ice has finally melted and most of us have our power back on, it’s time to start evaluating the effect of the mega winter storm that screamed through the Southern Plains right after Christmas.

As a brief recap, winter storm Goliath hit the Southern Plains on December 26 through 28 leaving in its wake record snow fall in parts of Texas, power outages from ice accumulations of over one inch in parts of Oklahoma, and freezing rain and sleet in Kansas.

Record flooding occurred throughout the Southern Plains making December 2015 the wettest on record for most of the region. It’s been estimated that over 40 people were killed by this storm (many coming from the Southern Plains region), making it the deadliest weather system recorded in 2015.

The storm spawned 24 tornadoes, numerous flooding events, and left hundreds of thousands without power.

On the agriculture front, we’re still getting a handle on the storm’s full impact. We know that over 30 thousand dairy cattle and 12 thousand beef cattle were killed in Texas alone.

The effects from these and other losses will have long ranging impacts not just for producers, but also consumers as the loss of these animals combined with reduced productivity from the remaining herd shows up in the meat and dairy sections of your local supermarket.

The bottom line is that this was one heck of a storm…and it came on the heels of another winter storm that had already hit the region over Thanksgiving weekend.

Clearly the calls for diligence during this record El Nino season that were sounded earlier in 2015 had merit. The “Godzilla” El Nino or the “Mother of all El Nino’s” or whatever you wish to call the current warm phase of the Southern Oscillation Cycle in the Pacific appears to be making itself felt in our part of the country.

And if we haven’t sat up and taken notice yet we need to, because while it’s impossible to 100% accurately predict the weather, it’s a good bet that we will be seeing hazardous weather again before summer.

So what do we do?

First, we need to take stock of where we are. We’ve dealt with extreme winter weather before, but are we ready with everything we need to respond to the next storm? What do our feed and hay stocks look like? Are we paying attention to the forecast and positioning bales and cubes where we can get to them in the event of extreme snow or rain? Do we have a plan for when the power goes out at our milk barn, our bird houses, and our farm headquarters?

Most of this is just common sense, but as so often is the case, it’s the simplest things that often get overlooked. We need to sit down and make sure we have done what we can to be ready to make it through the remainder of the winter regardless of what comes our way.

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Looking forward, we should be mindful that often El Nino can be followed by a La Nina event.  If this were to happen, the Southern Plains could switch from the current wet cycle back to a drought like we experienced from 2010 to 2014.

And while it might seem silly to be thinking about your drought plan while you’re slogging through the mud, realizing that dry weather could be right around the corner and considering your options today before the moisture turns off tomorrow can help you better respond to a drought and can help protect your operation’s bottom line.

Will Rogers once said “if you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute.”  This holds true for the entire Southern Plains region. Giving some thought now as to how you will respond when extreme weather hits can pay big dividends later.

Events like El Nino and La Nina coupled with the increasing volatility created by our changing climate make it more important than ever to plan for whatever Mother Nature will be throwing our way.


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