PIERRE, S.D. — A record-breaking storm that dumped 4 feet of snow in parts of western South Dakota left tens of thousands of people without electricity on Monday, and ranchers bracing for heavy losses as they assess how many of their cattle died during the unseasonably early blizzard.
The weekend storm was part of a powerful weather system that also buried parts of Wyoming and Colorado with snow, and spawned destructive tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa. At least four deaths were attributed to the weather, including a South Dakota man who collapsed while cleaning snow off his roof.
Cattle ranchers throughout western South Dakota were reporting losing between 20 percent and 50 percent of their herds, and early estimates suggest the region may have lost 5 percent or more of its cattle, said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
Christen said the storm not only killed calves that were due to be sold soon, but also cows that would produce next year’s calves.
“This is from an economic standpoint something we’re going to feel for a couple of years,” Christen said.
National Guard troops were helping utility crews pull equipment through the heavy, wet snow to install new electricity poles in western South Dakota, where more than 22,000 homes and businesses remained without power Monday afternoon, according to utility companies.
At least 1,600 poles were toppled in the northwest part of the state alone, and workers are expecting to find more as they make their way into rural prairie areas, Grand River Electric Coop spokeswoman Tally Seim said.