It was Friday, April 29th 2011, in Northeastern Montana. It was calving time, the foals were
coming and the farmers were trying to get in the fields. We had a winter storm warning for
late Friday night and into Saturday morning. It had been a terrible winter and spring and
now the weatherman was predicting 1-3 inches of heavy wet snow and high winds. We were
expecting some difficulties but nothing like we got.
About 8:00 PM Friday evening, it started raining and when I went to bed at midnight, we had
half an inch of rain. I awoke about 3:30 AM to the wind howling at over 40 miles per hour. The electricity was out and it was cool in the house but not cold, yet. I went to look out the
bedroom window on the west end of the house and I couldn't see out it because it was coated
with snow and ice. I went to the big picture window on the north, it also, had a couple of
inches of snow and ice. It was the same story on the east and south sides of the house. This
was weird, what direction was this wind coming from and why were all the windows caked? I
opened the front door on the south side of the house. There was a 3 foot snow bank up
against the door and part of it fell onto the entry floor when I opened it. I tried to get a look
outside but I couldn't see anything but swirling snow.
About 5:15 AM, Mark got up to check cows. He was still half asleep and I don't think he
realized how bad the weather was outside until he was already out in it. I was worried, then
surprised, when Mark came back in the door quicker than I had expected. I asked if there
was anything going on with the cows. He said he didn't know - he hadn't gotten that far. He
had gotten the 4 wheeler stuck and couldn't see so he came back to the house. Mark said it
was the first time he could ever remember that he could not get out to check the cows.
It was still dark in the house even though it was getting daylight outside. All of the windows
were covered in thick snow and ice so it was blocking the light. I found some batteries and
the old radio, searched and searched for a local station but could not find a single one. I also
got out the flashlight's, candles, oil lamps, and a couple of sweaters. The phone started
ringing about 6:30AM from neighbors trying to find out if they were the only ones without
About 9:00 AM the phone rang from our closest neighbors. They needed help. She had opened the door to look outside and now they couldn't get the door closed against the wind and snow and ice. The snow and wind were filling the house and the had no electricity so it was quickly getting very cold. He had just had hip replacement surgery so he could not help her with the door but he could call Mark while she physically held the door closed against the wind. Mark said he would get the tractor and try to get there. He dressed again and went out.
Just a few minutes later my cell phone rang. Mark was coming back home. He could not see,
he had gone in the ditch 3 times with the tractor, there were 6 or 8 vehicles stuck ON the
highway, one of them was a semi. He had gone less than 1/2 a mile. Mark had found our
fence line and was following back to the house. I called our neighbors back and they both
sounded panicked but didn't want Mark out in it either. We promised as soon
as we were able, we would be there.
Mark got back home and started the generator and we made some coffee. We called the
Sheriff Dept. to let them know the highway was blocked. While i was on the phone with them,
they informed me that the repeaters were down so the fire and ambulance services could
not be activated by radio. It would have to be by phone. They were also closing the highway.
The generator only runs for about an hour on a tank of gas. The tank only holds a gallon of
gas. Our generator will run the furnace to heat the house but little else. If we want to run the
fridge or the freezers, we need to shut off the furnaces. So we alternate which utilities we
run, when we fire up the generator. Later, Mark brought in a camp stove (my stove is
electric) and I started a kettle of chili. It would be easy to warm up and taste good on a day
like today. We made a phone call to the electric company to let them know we were without
There was little to do at this point except answer the phone, which was ringing constantly,
everyone was trying to find out the same information. How long was this going to last? How
long were we going to be without electricity? Are you OK? What about this neighbor? or
A friend of mine, an author was to have a book signing in Williston, ND that afternoon and
then stay with us Saturday night before heading home Sunday morning. Her husband called
me to tell me she was stranded in Ray, ND. which is about 70 miles from me. I could not even
get out of my yard at this point. She is not from this area so didn't know anyone and was
stranded in her car. I made a phone call to my mother who lives quite close to Ray and she
called her Pastor who does live in Ray. Within 10 minutes of the first phone call we had a
place for her to stay until the storm was over. It was that easy. Everyone puts everything
aside and opens their homes during this kind of thing. What a great part of the country I live
I think it was around noon before we began to be able to see a little. The snow let up but the
wind was still howling. We could see that one of the big power poles just east of the house
was down and the power lines were sagging way down over Jubal's pen. Mark caught up
Jubal and moved him to the barn. He took the tractor and went to check cows. He found 3
dead calves and the storm was not over yet. The electric company stopped at our house to
tell us we had calves on the highway.
Sometimes when it storms like this, the animals become disoriented and lost too. They begin
to walk along letting the wind push them. They go through fences, creeks, or whatever might
be in the way but is not solid. The only thing that stops them is something solid like a
building. We got our calves back into the pasture with the cows.
After that, Mark started the tractor again and started for the neighbors. This time he was
able to get there. There were many vehicles stuck right on the highway and it is just a mile
to the neighbors house. He stopped and checked every vehicle to see if people were in them
or not. A couple still had people in them and they were going to try to get back to town.
When he got to the neighbors' place, he had to plow into the house and then dig up to the
front door. He was able to chip the ice and snow away from the hinges and get the door
closed for them. They had a 2 foot snow bank across the living room floor and it was cold in
the house. Mark wanted to bring them home with him then but he was in the tractor and it is
a long way up in the air for someone that just had hip replacement surgery. He tried to start
the propane fire place but it would not light. He had to leave them there wrapped in blankets.
He came home and I fed him some hot coffee and chili. Then he got dressed again, got in the
tractor and plowed the 4 wheel drive pickup out. Then he told me to call the neighbors to tell
them he was coming to get them and he wasn't taking no for an answer. Though it was
difficult to get them into the pickup, he did get the neighbors back to our house.
I fed them some hot food and heated water on the camp stove for hot chocolate or Apple
Cider. We visited with them and it did make the time go faster. I had gotten one of the dining
room windows open while he was gone and used a hammer to break the ice and snow out, I
could not believe how hard I had to pound to break it out. There was 3 to 4 inches of snow
and ice packed in there and it was solid! At least I could sort of see out. We did still have
water so at least we had a bathroom and the house wasn't freezing. We would run the
generator for an hour every few hours. It would heat the house up and get it warm until the
Later, in the afternoon the snow stopped though the wind was still howling, and we began to
take in the damage. We could count a dozen power poles down so we knew electricity was
going to be off for a while. When the electric company called us to ask what we could see for
damage, they informed us they already had reports of over 100 poles down.
Mark got out to check cows and immediately found 3 dead calves. The cows were bellowing
looking for calves and they were all separated from each other. The snow banks were so
deep neither man nor animal was getting around very well at all.
Then, the reports began to
come in about cow/calf losses all over the area. A whole herd of cows/calves walked into a
slough and over 100 were dead. 30 head had bedded down behind a hill for protection from
the wind but the snow blew over the hill and covered them up, and they were all dead. The
reports kept coming, it was devastating!
It began to get dark so I heated the chili and we made another meal of it with some hot
cider. I lit the oil lamps at the dining room table and a candle in the bathroom. I showed the
neighbors to their beds and gave each of them a flashlight for trips to the bathroom during
the night. It wasn't late but we were all exhausted so we decided to call it a night. Mark made
his way out to the generator and started it again, as it warmed up in the house we all went to
bed. We went to sleep to the drone of the generator and the furnaces running and slept all
When Mark and I woke at 5:30 AM Sunday morning, it was pretty cool in the house, so we
dressed hurriedly. Mark went out and started the generator and made his way out to the
pastures to check animals and I put on a pot of coffee. Mark found a couple more dead
calves and there were still a couple of cows looking for their calves.
One cow was hanging
out and going around the old combine. It was odd so Mark checked and there, snowed in
under the combine was a live calf. He could not dig it out because the snow was more like ice
packed around it, so he went and got the tractor and lifted one end of the combine and the
calf teetered out from under it to his very happy momma. He was pretty cold and stiff but
went right to nursing and seemed to perk right up.
Our neighbors were
still sleeping. As soon as it was really light
outside, people began to move around again. There
was a little traffic on the highway so it must have
been open again. Other neighbors began to call
because no one could reach the ones staying at our
house. Family were all calling each other to check.
The kids were calling to ask about freezers and what
to do with them. The electric company came to the
door and asked Mark to come out and play and to
bring his tractor.
Our neighbors were worried about their kitties so
they wanted to go home. I took them home to their
own house. It was cool but they were OK. Mark worked
until 10:00 PM with the electric company, helping to
try to restore power and kept busy with chores,
animals and clean up. He would pull one truck
through, then go back for another, and another...
The blizzard is over but the recovery has just