The Things I Prize

by Amy on June 17, 2015



Hand Signals: Synonym for “Confuse”

by Amy on June 12, 2015

This column was originally published February 26, 2014

Whenever Art and I are dealing with cows, machinery, or trailers, he’ll suddenly switch to his native tongue to communicate with me. It’s the language cavemen invented—communicating with hand gestures and sometimes accompanied by loud grunts. Thousands of years later farmers and ranchers still use this language when they get keyed up during critical man moments.

Males understand this native language easily but the opposite sex, not so much. Fortunately, man’s language has evolved to include sounds, vowels, and words —the verbal communication women have adopted as their first language which is universally used today and that most people understand. The unfortunate part is that nowadays man’s hand signal communication leaves too much room for misinterpretation because he also invented homonyms for his hand gestures.

My husband’s hand signals have too many interpretations for me to decipher quickly under pressure when there’s a sudden change in his instructions via a hand signal. An outstretched arm waving across his chest could mean “get out of the way,” “get over here,” “get over there,” or “get away from the gate,” but I’m not sure. I have to adapt to the situation and figure out which meaning he’s referring to.

The main reason men and women in agriculture have trouble understanding each other while working outside together is that they’re trying to communicate using two different languages. I call this “Spouses in Translation.” Instances where this occurs include, livestock handling, backing up machinery, vehicles, and/or trailers, or instructions indicating when to “start it” (equipment or vehicles) during a guy’s mechanical problem assessment.

One language involves hand gestures and/or occasional hollering (interpreted as loud grunts), and the other includes speaking rhetorical statements and questions in English. Regardless of the distance a farmer or rancher is from his wife, he always seems to want to use his centuries-old native language to communicate: the hand signal.

I am fairly certain using hand signals is due to the fact that men are hard of hearing, meaning they’ve taught their brain that listening to their wife is not necessary if her conversations are irrelevant to his thoughts, plans, and ideas; therefore rendered worthy of ignoring.  Thus, men have trained themselves to tune out their wives’ voice much of the time, causing men to be misdiagnosed as “hard of hearing.”

Problems stem from men preferring to use hand signals to communicate and women preferring to talking about it. Talking is in a woman’s nature, similarly to the way it’s in men’s nature to hand-signal what he’s trying to convey.  Talking is how a woman processes information. She likes to talk it out, discuss it, rephrase it, recap it, analyze it, confirm it, question it, and ask lots and lots of (in a man’s opinion, annoying) questions about it, or bring it up later. Men and women perceive, interpret, and process information differently, and any woman who’s been married to a farmer or rancher long enough knows the importance of making sure she’s covered every angle of his instructions for her before the task is carried out to avoid being at fault should the plan fail.  Talking helps her establish confidence in understanding what’s expected of her or what her instructions are.

Wives may not be fluent in communicating using hand signals but they do a fair job talking about what their husband’s hand signals are supposed mean.

© Amy Kirk 2014


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The Loathesome Gate Job

by Amy on March 20, 2015


This column was originally published May 21, 2014

I’ve never viewed any job involving a gate as being a coveted one. Stubborn gates always seem to require more muscle, squeezing, and grunting to shut than to open. I do not enjoy being watched while straining to get a tight wire gate open or getting perfectly good, intact clothes ripped, but getting gates is not as troublesome as being one.

Sufficing as a gate means risking getting run over and not appearing intimidating enough to keep cattle from getting past. During church service, I gained a new appreciation for being the gate person, which refers mostly to being the stand-in gate wherein animals are not supposed to pass through unless the human “gate” allows it, but it includes opening and shutting the gate also.

I have read the gospel of John before, but I didn’t remember chapter 10 verse 9:“9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” As the text was read then talked about in the sermon, that verse spoke to me and it said, “Stop grumbling about being the gate person.” I couldn’t help but notice that Jesus and I have something in common—we’ve both been considered a human barricade. If Jesus views being a gate a duty of great value, maybe being the gate gal is not so lowly after all.

Jesus talks about being a gate person, as in THE gate, much like the way I am designated sometimes. Opening, closing, getting, or being the gate, it does not matter—it’s all the same job to me. Granted, I am by no means categorized as the same kind of gate as Jesus the Gate, but I was reassured that as God’s CEO, Jesus regards being The Gate as a prestigious position. It made me feel better to consider that maybe this has something to do with the reason why women are oftentimes chosen to be the gate, especially since there’s usually no one else around.

Husbands don’t realize how much pressure we sometimes feel when they holler nonchalantly with high expectation, “DON’T LET ‘EM GET THROUGH THAT HOLE!” but at the same time expect us not to spook anything away from the desired destination. (A hole is referred here as any size of open space the wife is expected to block with her body between permanent barricades.)

I know what the proper interpretation of the verse that says, “Whoever goes through Him will be saved,” but since Bible scripture can be interpreted differently to everyone and at different times in our lives, I plan to take advantage of that. When I am asked to go to block a hole, I will definitely interpret the text as “saved from being run over” because that’ll be my prayer if necessary.

Although Jesus’ job as The Gate is way more important than mine, it is reassuring that a job I’ve accepted begrudgingly and always worried about not succeeding at is a job Jesus embraces with high regard.

I think I know now why women are naturally picked to be the “gate.” It’s likely because we’re more apt to pray before taking our stance to block a hole: “God, PLEASE don’t let (fill in the quantity and gender of cattle here) get past me when he (husband) brings them in.”

I don’t mind being a gate now that I know someone in a position much higher than myself is also. I just don’t want to be standing there if any animal decides to jump over or blast through me. I’ve seen the damage of some of our metal gates and they usually aren’t worth saving.

© Amy Kirk 2014


What A Ranch Woman Wants to Hear

by Amy on January 26, 2015

This column was originally published December 11, 2013

After the first year as husband and wife and every day thereafter, a ranch wife loves to hear certain words from her husband. Words that renew her romantic notions about the man she married.

Whether husbands realize it or not, there are certain things a wife never tires of hearing repeatedly. For me, it’s when my husband says, “I’ll get the gate.” Anytime I’m dreading getting out of the pickup because I’m unmotivated, it’s freezing out, or Art and I approach a notoriously tight gate, such words can highlight my whole day.

I get up between 4 and 5 a.m.  so I’m usually the first person to make the coffee. Normally I wake up my spouse and bring him a cup, but occasionally I’ll hear the bedroom floor creak from my husband’s footsteps followed by his voice speaking words as sweet as honey: “You ready for some coffee?” I immediately open my eyes to him holding out a welcomed cup of coffee, and I’m in love all over again.

Hearing my husband say “I got (horse I’m going to be riding) saddled up for ya,” is serendipitous.  As the mom, I’m always the last one out the door with all the snacks and drinks that no one else bothered to grab but everybody craves during a long cow-moving ride. Although I can saddle my own horse, it’s a treat when my husband has my ride ready for me so nobody is waiting on me to get my horse saddled.

Suppertime can be a drag because of all the shirking regarding the clean up. The most overused excuses are homework, needing to take a shower, or needing to use the bathroom. One of my husband’s most romantic gestures is sticking around and saying, “I’ll sweep the floor.” To ranch a wife, floor-sweeping is the stuff aphrodisiacs are made of.

I also hate it when I can’t think of anything to make for supper and the whole family is hungry. My hero saves the day when he says, “How ‘bout a cheat night?” I’m fully aware that he only says that because he doesn’t want to wait 45 minutes to eat something, but he still saves the day. Cheat nights are when everybody has a bowl of cereal for supper.

There’s nothing more appealing about my husband when we go to feed the heifer calves than when he says, “If you feed the calves, I’ll push up the hay.” Since he created a much handier, safer, more efficient system for filling feed buckets, I prefer feeding the calves, but especially when the hay that has to be pushed up is covered with a heavy layer snow.

I don’t transition well from toasty warm to freezing cold very well, so when my husband tells me, “I got your car warmin’ up,” I go from cringing at the thought of a cold car to feeling warm and fuzzy toward my husband.

“Wanna trade foot rubs?” is one of the most romantic things my spouse says to me—but only when he’s not engrossed in watching a Netflix. Movies distract him, creating frequent stops and delays in my foot massage.

Probably the best thing my husband says to me is, “Here’s your cut.” When somebody buys scrap items out of our junkyard they usually pay in cash and I love these deals because to a ranch wife, nothing says love more than being handed cold hard cash when I didn’t even have to do any labor to get it.

© Amy Kirk 2013




One of the many shop projects I’ve witnessed over the years: converting my old family car (Ford Explorer) into a “ranch pickup”…on Mother’s Day.

This column was originally published September 25, 2013

It’s a good idea for wives to show genuine interest in their husband’s projects, but discretion is advised.

Supporting my spouse’s projects demonstrates that I’m interested in and appreciate what he does around here. Being his project cheerleader is also good practice when I need his help and man skills/tools on my own projects.

Even if I don’t understand his shop and welding language, he’ll talk about and show me what he’s done. Most of his projects pertain to useful ranch upgrades, whether they enhance equipment, make systems for chores easier, or diversify the use of an old trailer.

Gathering information about the project before he leaves the house allows me to inquire about it later and show my interest in his work from afar—when he comes into the house for something, like food and water. Pre-project interest prevents premature shop visiting and gives me an idea when I can enter the shop without fear of getting sucked into grunt work or dirtying up my clean clothes and shoes. During the planning and building stages I run the risk of getting sucked into doing tasks to not suited to my impatient nature.

When I go out to the shop to show my interest and pride in his project I end up doing things I don’t enjoy. It all starts with an innocent request like handing him a grease rag. Before long I’m holding the treble light at a specific angle that I can’t rest on something while holding it. Gradually, the requests get bigger, and I’m asked to hold an end of a chunk of metal or wood in the air and not move it once he’s set it in place, but while he goes after some tool or pencil, my arms get tired and I accidently move it. The worst is being asked to watch the ground when he’s working outside of the shop doors. I’m supposed to scan the ground for sparks igniting surrounding grass while he’s welding. This can kill a restless person. Pretty soon I’m fetching a glove, rag, hammer, wing nut, tool I’m not familiar with,—and my personal favorite—any size wrench. The thing about wrenches is that I have to look at the size stamped on each one to determine if it’s the right one. Reading so many different fractions causes me to forget which one he wanted.

Assuming I can venture out there to look over the progress of a shop project, praise and marvel at his talents briefly, and slip back out is just asking to get waylaid. Good clothes or at minimum clean clothes don’t fair well when asked to handle objects that are dust or grease-covered and lying on the grungy shop floor. Many times I’ve mistakenly thought my husband would notice my neat and clean attire or didn’t expect to be there long enough to get dirty. That mindset is what has gotten my clothes smudged; myself put to work, or both. No man is going to notice a woman’s garments because all he sees is that some flunky just waltzed in who can hold stuff or fetch things for him now.

I enjoy seeing my spouse’s handiwork, but I should know better than to go to the shop while a project is developing. As a kid I was a victim of this luring-bystanders-into-fetching-and-holding-things man trait in my dad’s shop.

My secret to praising and viewing my husband’s projects without having to fetch things and get dirty is to tell my husband I’ll have lemonade made and his favorite meal ready at noon.

© Amy Kirk 2013


My Annual Lucille Ball Moment in Twine

by Amy on November 30, 2014


A couple of ideal-looking baling twine balls. Examples courtesy of my Hubs.

This column was originally published December 26, 2013

Cutting twine on a round bale and gathering it into a wad may seem like a task any idiot can do, but at the start of a new winter cow-feeding season I have all sorts of problems removing twine.

Twine removal is a skill similar to an artist getting back into watercolor painting after a long hiatus—if I don’t use it I lose it. My twine cutting, extracting, and wadding skills apparently get rusty over the summer and fall. For some reason I can’t seem to get my twine together. Until I get back into managing twine with high efficiency, the first few times I feed round bales by myself I end up in a Lucille Ball moment with twine.

I recently carried out the annual tradition on my first solo cow-feeding day for this winter when my husband had a morning appointment in town. I did such an excellent job of honking the horn to call our cows to feed that when I got out of the pickup to cut the twine I had to wade through a sea of black fur to get to the back of the pickup. Cutting the twine took awhile as cows jostled me around worse than an overcrowded rowdy rock concert.

I tussled with the mob in getting the twine strings cut while they mauled the tightly bound hay with their heads to loosen it for a bite. This caused the bale to rock back and forth on the bale grapples while I attempted to cut the twine. Strings were cut at different heights and I couldn’t gather them all easily from one side.

Next, I tugged and pulled and yanked on the strings to get them to come off. Some were frozen to thick layers of hay and I had to follow one hard-pulling string that lead to a cow’s mouth. She and I had a little tug-of-war over the twine and I had to follow her around briefly until I could pull it all out of her mouth.

I also had to back the mob away from strings that ended up on the ground and had to quickly wrap them into a ball after one cow stepped on some knotted twine and got it tangled around her dewclaws—a development that occurred while I was trying to pull twine from the other cow’s mouth. While walking around wrapping loose twine strings as fast as I could before another cow stepped on or ate it, I tangled my own feet in snarled twine not yet part of my badly misshapen twine ball. Out of impatience and aggravation I went to yanking and winding twine hard and fast until my foot jerked like a puppet’s foot on strings, and I nearly face-planted myself in snow.

Once I was confident I’d gotten every twine string away from all mouths and feet and into a twine wad, I hastily headed to the pickup door to proceed with my original task of unrolling the bale. This is when I discovered that I couldn’t open the door or get my hand out of my glove because I’d managed to wrap my gloved hand into a twine club so tight that I couldn’t get my glove or my hand out. By now I was getting mad and spent another five minutes retrieving my hand and glove out of the twine club I’d crafted before I was finally able to get the bale unrolled.

It’s usually after having a Lucille Ball moment like this in which I’m reminded that in order to avoid making things worse I shouldn’t get all wadded up about it.

© Amy Kirk 2013


A Day for Celebrating Gratitudes

by Amy on November 27, 2014


Thanksgiving may be a day set aside once a year for being thankful and celebrating it with family and food, but I try to be thankful regularly by keeping a gratitude journal. This is a gratitude journal I received one year for Christmas from a girlfriend whose name is also Amy.


This is the “instructions” for recording my gratitudes she inscribed on the inside cover.


Here’s five gratitudes I’d written several years ago.


Although I don’t jot down my gratitudes daily, and some days on the ranch make it hard to feel thankful, I still think it’s important to keep negativity and ungratefulness in check and acknowledge what we do (and in some cases don’t) have. I try to be grateful for the little things as much as the big things.

Farms and ranches experience extremely lean years, abundant years, interspersed with circumstances beyond our control that can affect farming and ranching families’ livelihood. We learn to always appreciate what we have because we never know when that could change in a moment and be grateful no matter what our current situation is. Due to the nature of the cattle business (as well as the farming industry), people in agriculture are among the most grateful around the world.

This Thanksgiving I hope you celebrate your gratitudes for the very small things as much as the big things in your life. Be grateful also for the things you don’t have, as we all have things thankfully aren’t a part of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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This past Monday morning was a rude awakening, not just to freezing rain early in the morning that turned to sticky snow but plummeting temperatures.

I had just spent a week at a writer’s retreat in Florida and thankfully, got home late Sunday night before the snow rolled in. The next morning it was “back to reality” for me, (but truthfully I didn’t mind, I was glad to be home) as I helped the Hubs with livestock chores. Since there is plenty of grass yet to graze in this particular pasture, he decided we would feed our cows some hay but only about half of what we normally feed to eliminate any wasted hay. The picture above of me  getting the gate AND snow falling while my husband loaded a bale seemed like an appropriate “back to reality” picture.

I had invested in a pair of super warm Carhartt Arctic Extreme biberalls last year so I was ready for the cold, but anytime we’re doing chores out in bitter cold temperatures, I think about making comfort foods that will warm us up. Chili is always a good idea and is an ideal comfort food on a cold day. Wednesday morning our thermometer read -24 degrees! (Notice the lower number says 54 degrees–that was our inside temperature when I woke up because the pilot light went out sometime during the night. Yikes!)



When I got in the house after we got feed chores done Monday morning I made chili and a pan of cornbread. Here are my recipes.


Kirk Ranch Chili–with some MEAT to it!

  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs. hamburger browned and drained
  • 4 tenderized round steak, cubed and flash-cooked (what I mean by this is steak cubes cooked in a cast iron skillet on high in a Tbs of melted butter. Heat the butter until it turns brown–it will smoke up your house though–throw the meat in the pan and cook 30 seconds, then turn them over so they’re still pink inside. They’ll finish cooking while simmering in the crockpot or Dutch oven)
  • Mix the two meats together and set aside
  • In the same large skillet the round steak was cooked in (I prefer cast iron skillet), add the following and simmer 5-10 minutes on medium-low to medium heat:
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz. V-8 juice (or tomato juice)
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 2 diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (if available)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 green pepper and 1/2 onion chopped (I had to use  some that I had dehydrated  which also works)
  • 2 t. Senor Gordon’s Chili Seasoning (its not available everywhere, so your favorite chili seasoning will do) I also add a tablespoon to my meat mixture
  • 1 t. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. basil
  • 1/2 – 1 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 chocolate bar or small handful milk chocolate chips (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • Simmer all then add to meat mixture and put all in a crockpot on low 4 hours or in Dutch oven on 250 degrees
  • Beans of your choice OPTIONAL I don’t like beans so I omit and let my family add a scoop from a can if they want them.


Honey Cornbread

  • 1 stick butter or margarine softened
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. honey depending on how sweet you like your cornbread
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 2/3 c. milk
  • 2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and honey. Combine milk and eggs. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with egg mixture. Pour into greased 9x13x2″ pan. Bake 400 degrees for 22-27 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. 12-15 servings.

Wherever you’re at, STAY WARM!

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South Dakota Farm and Ranch Life in Poetry

by Amy on October 14, 2014


Anytime I discover something that becomes a part of my “favorite things” list, I want to share it with others. I met farmer and cattleman Bruce Roseland of North Central South Dakota at the South Dakota Festival of Books back in September in Sioux Falls.


Bruce writes free verse poetry about everyday things that pertain to rural life on his South Dakota farm, the land, the people, nature, and the wildlife that inhabit it.

I like his poems because I can relate to many of them since I’m a South Dakotan, I’m involved in agriculture, and I have seen or experienced some of what he describes in his poems. Some of them remind me of the way my husband thinks, and others express or describe similar feelings or observations I’ve had about the land here in South Dakota, the wildlife, and our lifestyle.

The following is a poem of his that I really liked because my husband and I feel the same way about any black baldies we have in our herd but it also describes the way I feel about any Herefords and red brockle or bald faced cows or heifer calves that I can talk my husband into keeping.

The Standouts

by Bruce Roseland

My cows pretty much look all the same,

the result of years of buying all black Angus bulls.

but I still have those cows

with individual markings,

throwbacks to years ago of past crossbreeding.

Showing up as a spot of white

on a face or throat, or a curly swirl of hair

that makes one of them stand out

from the crowd.

These I notice, and keeping track

of their life histories

is a bit easier than for all the other black cows,

who are distinguished only by a numbered tag.

I find myself cheering a little when these

uniquely-marked cows, in the fall, are pronounced,

“pregnant” by the vet

because they’ll stay another year

and hopefully drop a live, healthy calf.

And in the spring, I catch myself smiling

a bit as I realized that this isn’t merely a business

of dollars and pounds of beef.

I find myself rooting for the individual.


You can find more of Bruce’s poetry at his website Heart of the Prairie, where many of his poems are put to photography by Susan Melius, who also lives and farms in South Dakota. Bruce has published three books of poetry: The Last Buffalo, which won the 2007 Wrangler Award for “Outstanding Book of Poetry,” A Prairie Prayer, and winner of the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award for outstanding western literature. His poetry in Church of the Holy Sunrise is set to beautiful photographs of South Dakota by his neighbor and photographer Susan Melius. His book Song for My Mother is poetry written chronologically about his mother’s last two years in a nursing home.


Atlas’ 1st Anniversary

by Amy on October 3, 2014


A year ago today, winter storm Atlas began with rain, then turned to rapidly piling snow overnight. I was not at home, but rather attending the annual Women in Ag conference for our area 30 miles away along with many other farm and ranch women. My family was home and rode out the storm mildly. Our place was not hit hard with the devastating storm the way we learned many others did.

Evidence remained fresh in our minds, thoughts, and prayers long after the storm as we saw media coverage on the after effects having to extract dead livestock from roads and nooks and crannies along western South Dakota’s landscape.

Months later, our son Myles had to choose a senior project. It had to be something that related to community service. Part of the project was doing a research paper. He chose to do a steak feed to benefit South Dakota ranchers through the Rancher Relief Fund. His research paper was on blizzards and their effect on ranchers. When I read his research paper I was amazed at what I learned about these types of storms. I feel it’s worth sharing and have decided to include it on my blog. If you are interested and have time, you’re welcome to read it.

By Myles Kirk

All weather has a great impact on the income of ranchers, but none more adverse than Midwestern winters and the blizzards they bring. Blizzards occur about three times in an average winter for South Dakota (Hoover, page 24). Residents of South Dakota are used to extreme weather, but the recent Atlas Storm caught livestock producers off-guard. It is important to help the local ranchers we have in South Dakota recover from the effects of this storm in any way we can to  shelter South Dakota’s number one industry- agriculture.

A blizzard has been defined by the National Weather Service as having “sustained winds or frequent gusts to thirty-five miles per hour or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to a quarter mile or less”(NWS, np).The Atlas storm greatly exceeded all of those requirements in addition to being early in the season, creating devastating losses for ranchers across western South Dakota. The factors that cause our weather have a lot to do with how this storm became so overwhelming.


The weather we experience on Earth is in many ways caused by the heating power of the Sun. The Sun heats up the Earth’s atmosphere in different amounts because of the tilt of the Earth. This tilt of the Earth changes over a 41,000 year cycle, but for now it is at a constant 23.45 degrees offset from straight up and down (Allaby, page 1). This means that there are different temperatures of air across the entire globe and that there are changing seasons for middle and higher latitudes. This causes the wind, precipitation, and hot or cold snaps that happen right here in South Dakota. Another factor that plays a role in local weather is the proximity to water. The Sun can heat up air fairly easily, but heating water takes more energy due to the heat capacity of water.This means that oceans and or large lakes have a moderating effect on local weather. The farther away from an ocean or large body of water, the drier the atmosphere is and the more extreme the temperatures range. Closer to a body of water, the atmosphere is wetter and has more moderate temperatures. The same principle that causes different temperatures in air also effects the oceans and causes global currents. In global weather, another factorthat plays a role is the Coriolis Effect. The Earth spins on an imaginary axis every day, causing parts of the Earth to face the darkness of space and the opposite parts of the Earth to be exposed to the warming rays of the Sun. Simply put, the Earth is spinning and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it. This also means that any object not firmly attached to the surface of the earth (air, for example) will tend to follow the curve that results from the turning of the Earth. The Coriolis Effect causes air to move in reoccurring patterns across the globe, and these moving air masses are prevailing winds (Allaby, page 74).For South Dakota, the wind in the summer is primarily from the South. In the fall,the wind patterns shift to the East slowly until winter, when the wind comes from the Northeast (Hoover, page 24-25). The primary winds for the middle latitudes in both hemispheres are from west to east (Allaby, page 12).

The weather in North America is greatly affected by the polar jet stream. This weather phenomenon was discovered by World War II pilots, when high-altitude flying was just being attempted. They discovered that they could either reduce or increase their air speed very dramatically depending on which direction they were flying. The jet stream happens in middle latitudes where cold polar and warm tropical air meet. The area where these two air masses meet is called the polar front, and it occurs usually about 40,000 feet in altitude (Allaby, page 150). The extreme difference in these air masses causes the high winds that can help or hurt pilots even today. During late winter, the jet stream breaks down in index cycles, which are barometric pressure differences between two different latitudes, making it difficult to predict the flow of the jet stream. When the jet stream breaks down over these cycles, it lets cold polar air from Canada into the lower United States. This causes the cold snaps South Dakotans occasionally feel. Every winter there are usually three types of air affecting North America that set up the wintry conditions Midwesterners are accustomed to. There is arctic air hovering over the most of Canada, moist air moving west from the Atlantic, and air moving east from the Pacific. When the air over the Pacific Ocean moves westward it collides with the polar air causing many winter storms, squalls, and occasionally blizzards (Allaby, page 72).

All the global and regional effects of weather form the local weather that every community experiences. The climate of most of western South Dakota can be described as a dry, continental climate. Most of western South Dakota is far from water sources, causing the typical continental conditions for such a climate: extreme hot/cold and very dry at times. Moisture in South Dakota happens only in a small area and is more difficult to predict. The Black Hills of South Dakota have an unclassified climate because of the adverse weather conditions caused by elevation changes and topography. This is shown in the fact that for every 1000 feet rise in elevation there is usually a three and a half degree drop in temperature (Hoover, page 26).

The total of all local, national, and global conditions create what we know as a climate, or the average weather of an area. A few special conditions must happen in order for a storm like Atlas to happen. Moisture in clouds from evaporated water sources falls to the Earth when it becomes too heavy. The air temperature of the cloud, the temperature of the air below the cloud, and the elevation of the cloud determine what type of precipitation it will be. When the cloud temperature is around 23 to 32 degrees,the bigger flakes are produced (Allaby, page 91). When the air temperature is extremely cold, there will not be very much snow. This is because cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and thus there is nothing to turn into snow. This has been shown by the extremely cold winters the Canadian prairie experiences: the winters here are bitterly cold, but many days go by without a cloud in the sky (Allaby, page 71).Blizzards usually happen when there is an unusually warm spell during the winter, which means the end or beginning of winter. Many blizzards occur during the month of March across Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The relatively warm air that brings snow, combined with wind, are the main components of blizzards.

One must understand that snow can be altered once it reaches the ground. The sun may warm snow up causing a tiny layer of water to be on top of the snow which may freeze, causing a glazed snow. Wind also alters snow and can create features such as snowdrifts. Snowdrifts are another hazard that the high winds of a blizzard bring to an area. When there is a strong wind, the air has the ability to carry objects, snow being one of these. The more energy the wind has, the more it can carry. The opposite effect happens when it loses energy: it drops the snow. When air molecules collide with an object, they lose energy. This is seen with snowdrifts forming around the bases of objects left outside.

The Atlas Storm was during the fall of 2013, when relatively warm air was present. The air got cold enough to make freezing precipitation, and the South Dakota wind took care of the rest. This all summed up to be a disaster to cattle ranchers in South Dakota.

South Dakota has had a history of extreme winter weather, and it is not about to change. Three years before South Dakota became a state, in the winter of 1886, there was another devastating storm that dramatically reduced the size of the free range herd. There was a drought before that winter causing a shortage of feed in southern states, which caused cattle barons to send their herds north. Then the winter came and affected areas from Canada to Texas, killing 300 people in its wake. The Hash Knife Ranch near Belle Fourche, South Dakota had a pre-storm head count of about 80,000 cattle. The storm knocked their numbers to 9,000 head. The E6 Ranch accounted for 18,000 head before and 1,900 after the storm. Areas around the Cheyenne River were less effected by the storm due to cedar groves for shelter (Hunhoff, pages 59-64). The 1888 American winter was one of the worst recorded. On January 11-13, there was blowing snow and bitter cold, with a break for some time and then the storm resumed.

In the unclassified climate of the Black Hills, there have also been very surprising weather phenomenon. In January of 1943 in Spearfish, the temperature was recorded at a chilly four degrees below zero. Two minutes later, the temperature was at 45 degrees above. Spearfish still holds the record for the largest two minute temperature change in the world. This special even was caused by a Chinook, or a warm wind. The air was forced to sink from encounter with geographical features and warmed as it fell toward the Earth due to compression. For every mile the air sinks, it warms up about thirty degrees (Schrage, page 1).

During the Blizzard of 1949 in January, airplanes had to be used for food and medical supplies and for livestock hay. One person died in South Dakota, twelve in Wyoming, seven in Colorado, and twenty in Nebraska. The highest single gust during that storm was 73 miles per hour. January of 1949 was one of the snowiest and coldest months on recordfor many weather stations (Blizzard, page 1).

The year 1968 brought freezing rain followed by snow all across eastern South Dakota and into Minnesota. One man was killed in a train wreck after his car stalled on the tracks due to snow in Hancock, Minnesota (ABR, page 1). The winter of 1976-77 caused 19 states east of the Rocky Mountains to record some of their lowest temperatures. The winter of 1983 resulted in the deaths of fifty-six people on November 28 across Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa (UNR, page 1). The Holy Week Blizzard of 2000 snapped trees and power poles. Most of the 18 to 33 inches of snow fell within twelve hours, causing two to four inches of liquid precipitation. This Blizzard cost about three million dollars in damages (UNR, page 1).

Technology has played a major role in helping people across the Midwest prepare before storms hit and help combat them once they hit. The best way to prepare for a blizzard is to know when it is coming and modern meteorology helps with this. Numerical weather prediction is one way that scientists are able to predict some storms. This method uses the laws of physics to predict what the weather systems will do. The idea comes from the fact that air follows certain principles because of its properties as a fluid. The beginnings of this concept were first thought of by the English mathematician and meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson in 1922. Richardson’s methods were on the right track, but technology at the time didn’t have the calculating power that was needed. He had a staff of 26,000 accountants in total but it still wasn’t enough (Lyons, page 320).  His method predicted larger pressure changes than had ever been recorded and weren’t correct. His experiment was virtually forgotten. Modern technology has the ability to use this method effectively now because of faster computations.

One of the main constraints to weather forecasting is that weather systems are huge- most can cover large portions of continents. Putting data together for weather forecasting before 1869 could only go as fast as a horse could run from an observation station to a computing center. In 1869 the telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse and compiling data for weather forecasting was born. At the Great Exhibition in London during 1851, the first weather map was drawn up from several different observations at the same time. The first three-day forecasts were conducted in 1871 in Cincinnati, Ohio. From these humble beginnings, world-wide weather stations and predictions began (Allaby, page 181-182).

Other tools have been developed to help meteorologists form their forecasts. Starting in 1960, scientists started launching balloons into the atmosphere with data-measuring devices on them.  The balloons evolved into modern satellites that circle the globe and give an almost constant observation of the Earth (Allaby, page 182).Satellites help save over $5 billion per year because of the weather information they present to industries nationwide (Lyons, page 330). Modern satellites have cameras and infrared measurement devices on them to help scientists better analyze the data from weather stations, balloons, and ocean buoys. The information from all these data points is fed into a supercomputer which analyzes it and turns it into a map of what the weather is doing. Among the armory of tools at a meteorologist’s disposal are the experiences of the meteorologists themselves. A veteran meteorologist may be able to predict what will happen when certain conditions come around. The first clue that they look for is differences in air pressure.Even thoughall of these resources are available for weather forecasting, the most accurate predictions can only be made a week ahead of the present. Weather prediction may remain this way forever because of the chaotic forces created by the many topographical, atmospheric, and oceanographic features of the Earth. The shorter the forecast period, the more accurate it will be (Allaby, page 183).

From all these advances in technology, local weather stations are able to tell people around them what weather is coming their way. These come in the form of warnings from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA has the ability to broadcast these warnings over several types of media: television, internet, and radio. The warnings come in different severities starting with a Winter Weather Advisory to the most extreme being a Blizzard Warning. A Winter Weather Advisory is weather bad enough to cause some problems with transportation, etc. A Frost-Freeze Warning may occur in an area that normally doesn’t receive below freezing temperatures, or these temperatures are out of season for the area. A Winter-Weather Watch happens when blizzard type weather is two or less days away from an area. A Blizzard warning is what is broadcasted when the combination of wind-blown and falling snow is expected to produce snowdrifts, extreme temperature drops, and dramatically reduced visibility.

Out on the range of South Dakota ranchers also have a few tools to help fight blizzards. One of these tools is a snow fence, which causes wind to lose its velocity and drop snow before a roadway rather than on it. With snow fences, drifts are more likely to form to the side of the road (Lyons, page 320). Ranchers also can use powerful tractor-driven plows and snow-blowers. Windbreaks and shelterbelts are also used in the wake of a storm to keep livestock safe. Possibly the greatest defense against weather is the land itself- winter pastures are greatly protected from the chilling effects of the wind by hills and valleys.

The Atlas Storm was one of the worst Fall Blizzards in South Dakota’s recorded history. The previous October snowfall record was ten inches and happened a hundred years ago. The Atlas Storm dropped three feet of snow in some parts of the Black Hills. One location in Northwestern Lawrence County recorded 58 inches of snow. This equates to roughly 6.78 inches of liquid precipitation and 20 percent of the annual precipitation- all in three days. Lead, South Dakota holds the record amount of snowfall for this storm at 55 inches. Rapid City recorded their second heaviest snow storm during Atlas with 23.1 inches officially recorded. The highest peak wind gust was at Ellsworth, South Dakota. Here a gust of 71 miles per hour was recorded (Winter Storm Central, np). Interstate 90 was closed from Murdo, South Dakota to the Wyoming border and winds were sustained at 44 miles per hour (Winter Storm Central, np). The storm certainly had all the attributes to be a killer to livestock.

The average cow can sell for $2000 at today’s market price and the average calf about $1000 (Zhorov). The executive director of South Dakota Stock Grower’s Association, Silvia Christen, estimated that 5% of the cattle west of the Missouri River were lost in Atlas (Amundson, page 1B). About a third of South Dakota’s cattle herd (3.7 million head) live in western South Dakota (Amundson, page 1B). Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian, has estimated the total losses: 13977 cattle, 1257 sheep, 287 horses, and 40 bison, as of a month from when the storm occurred. Ranchers across South Dakota concluded that many of these died from exhaustion from drifting with the storm. Others suffocated each other even in sheltered corrals trying to escape the storm (Amundson, page 1B). Others were killed because of being trampled into low lying areas and being stuck in the mud. A few days before the storm the temperatures were nice: in the 70s and 80s, and many cows hadn’t grown their full winter coats yet. This caught livestock owners off guard and many cows were still on their unsheltered summer pastures. Cows in the shelter of the Black Hills had some calf abortions because of being forced to eat pine needles because of the heavy snowfall (Amundson, page 1B- 2B). Another concern for ranchers is the carcass cleanup process; all the snow accumulated has made significant amounts of mud. Some of the cattle will be hard to access with the proper equipment. These losses will be felt for generations to come and some operations may never recover from this one storm.

The losses from the Atlas Storm on October 3rd through the 4th of 2013 are significant; both in the number of cattle and the losses of income. There also was a great psychological loss: the ranchers were the caretakers of those animals and were unable to keep them alive through this terrible force of nature. The disastrous conditions seen on those two days were part of a long history of adverse weather across the Midwest, and it isn’t about to go away. There is help out there for these ranchers, but the ultimate factor to getting themback on their feet is their own determination and resolve. Ranchers who have lived in the Dakotas have had to deal with these same problems, and it is the hope for a better year that keeps these folks going. This storm won’t break this tradition- it will only strengthen these Midwesterners spirits. All weather has a great impact on the income of ranchers, but none more than adverse winters and the blizzards they bring.