Last Week’s Blizzard, This Week’s Hell

Did you know there was a blizzard last week? I’ll admit I didn’t. Never saw a peep about it across several Twitter and internet news feeds until today.

Between 28 and 60 inches of snow fell across parts of South Dakota late last week in a freakishly early snow storm, the white stuff accumulating rapidly while many of us were picking apart reports about the National Security Agency’s breaching of Tor. I was watching my feed pretty closely at the time, and never saw a thing about South Dakota’s weather.

Many if not all of South Dakota’s cattle ranchers still had herds out in summer grazing areas at the time the storm hit. The results are still being measured; somewhere between 15% and 50% of the entire South Dakota herd died in the storm, with long-term effects on the remaining herd as yet unknown.

I haven’t seen a map of the affected area, but I’ll bet these same ranchers may have been impacted by flooding earlier this year. Comprehensive maps detailing the affected area probably won’t be widely available until after Congress resolves the budget and debt ceiling disputes, restoring funding to government agencies like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service. Fortunately less detailed maps are available, reflecting flood warnings in western South Dakota.

The worst part of this situation isn’t the lack of predictive information in advance of the storm or impact maps in the wake of the blizzard. It’s the lack of any federal assistance to ranchers devastated by this storm; state agencies struggling with the impact of the storm on their normal operations will be challenged to respond without additional aid. Was adequate advance warning possible from NOAA’s skeleton crew? Should the affected area have been declared a federal disaster? Should there be assistance for cleanup and disposal of approximately 75,000 head of cattle? Should there be agencies looking into financial aid for those ranchers most impacted? Should there be health assessments with regard to the potential spread of disease among humans and cattle alike as the storm’s damage is documented?

Of course there should be assessments and assistance. We’ve agreed as a nation these kinds of services and more are in the best interest of the public as a whole, and we’ve funded them in the past. We help our neighbors in times of trouble just as they help us — this is and has been part of our American values.

It’s too damned bad, though, that Congressional Republicans have decided hard-working farmers — folks who ordinarily might be their base — are less important than a massive temper tantrum about health care and debts they agreed to under the last three presidential terms. Compare the speed with which Congress agreed to bail out soft-handed, flabby-assed banksters back in 2008 — the same banksters who made money off shady subprime mortgages and then tanked the economy with equally shady derivatives based on the same. It took one week from the time Congress reached a tentative agreement between parties, and passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. If speed of Congressional response were a measure of importance, helping hard-working but distressed small business owners in the heartland clearly isn’t a benchmark of note.

10 replies
  1. GKJames says:

    Problem is, the admirable sentiment of helping the farmers and ranchers runs smack into their voting-booth hypocrisy, where they vote government’s-the-problem Republican with one hand will cashing the subsidy and support checks with the other.

  2. C says:

    @RAM: Two points which may or may not conflict with yours: (a) ample coverage doesn’t eliminate the snow or the consequences to the herds. There is only so much that the farmers can do. The problem now is cleanup. (b) the weather channel depends upon NOAA data which is still being supplied in limited quantities but won’t be maintained in the long run until it reopens. So the weather channel can be accurate now but their own accuracy will fade over time as the shutdown goes on.

  3. Rayne says:

    @par4: Yeah. Right after we get some Republicans in good standing to offer similarly sound advice. Should I whip out a Paul Ryan video wherein he begs for TARP’s passage? They’re always good fun, especially the bits where he says individuals and markets will impacted if TARP doesn’t pass. Like a continued government shutdown won’t do that…

    @RAM: I don’t watch The Weather Channel for * news *. To South Dakotans, this was the equivalent of Hurricane Sandy. It should have cracked national news. Or perhaps this is why some of the poor remaining NOAA-NWS folks encoded a request for payment in a weather bulletin last week? I did see that cross my Twitter and news feeds last Friday.

    @GKJames: Yup, we’ve seen the same hypocrisy in Colorado with regard to flood response; their congressional delegation doesn’t like to fund hurricane response, but they’re all panicky about assistance when water goes Biblical on them.

    The problem with major disasters is that it doesn’t affect just them. WRT Colorado flooding, what happens if energy and telecommunications right-of-ways are immersed for too long–will the grid be affected more widely than the flooded area? What might happen if those South Dakotan cattle carcasses don’t get disposed of in a hurry — will contaminants end up in waterways, flowing toward other states? It’s not just selfish I’ve-got-mine-get-your-own thinking which underpins their hypocrisy; it’s a fundamental inability to think bigger, think systemically.

  4. Rayne says:

    @C: Yes, thank you, that second point is critical. And it frankly goes against my personal values to that we must rely on corporate resources for services befitting the common good that are best served by neutral parties — in this case, NOAA.

    [Gee, I wonder how this NOAA-NWS shutdown impacts air travel over the long run. Suppose we ought to trust our air safety to The Weather Channel, too? Will they hold my pilot’s attention hostage insisting they watch beaucoup advertisements before they get a weather report?]

  5. P J Evans says:

    I heard about it ahead of time from weatherdude at dKos. He also discussed Karen and the severe weather that was in the upper midwest. (He and a couple of other people provide really good coverage of storms.)

  6. C says:

    @Rayne: I agree. I find it interesting the definition of “essential services” that does not appear to include appropriate disaster preparedness and response.

  7. thatvisionthing says:

    Meanwhile, over on fdl, North Dakota:

    Over 20,600 barrels of oil fracked from the Bakken Shale has spilled from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga, North Dakota in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history.

    Though the spill occurred on September 29, the U.S. National Response Center – tasked with responding to chemical and oil spills – did not make the report available until October 8 due to the ongoing government shutdown.

  8. thatvisionthing says:

    Should there be assistance for cleanup and disposal of approximately 75,000 head of cattle?

    Should there be any grieving for the lives of 75,000 cattle?

    Looking for my place.

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