Remembering the blizzard of 1997

Al Gustin

Al Gustin

The TV news assignment editor called and asked if I would agree to be interviewed about my recollections of the blizzard of April 1997, as a cattleman and as a reporter. It had been a terrible winter. There had been a succession of blizzards. The April storm, named Hannah, killed more than 100,000 cattle in the state. Most vivid are my memories of the 120 yearlings that died southeast of Napoleon. The yearlings had drifted over a snow-buried fence. Then, pushed by fierce winds and blinding snow, they wandered for 4 miles before drowning or freezing to death in a slough along Beaver Creek.

I wanted the young reporter to understand what we would be talking about. So, I showed him the TV reports we had done. As I watched, the memories of coming onto that scene flooded over me. Contorted bodies, frozen, half-submerged. The expressions on the animals’ faces reflected their panic and suffering as they had died trying to escape. The pain felt by the owner standing next to me was palpable. It was awful!

I showed the reporter, too, the video of the recovery of those carcasses by the N.D. National Guard some days later. Equally awful! And I recalled how I felt, 25 years ago, standing there, both times, asking myself, what should I say? How do we show this? Should we show this? What will people think?

Mother Nature can be cruel for farmers, too. Hail can wipe out crops in minutes. But it’s not the same.

In 2009, a spring flood had inundated the bottoms along Beaver Creek. On one farm, where cows had sought protection in the trees along the creek, about 100 cows drowned. The young Extension agent told me that after witnessing the scene, he gathered neighbors and authorities to help with disposal. He knew the owner couldn’t go down there, and couldn’t handle it emotionally – not if he could see the ear tags.

As I write this on April 9, a major storm is headed our way. Anxiously, we prepare as best we can, praying they won’t be talking about this storm on TV 25 years from now.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.