September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Ice storm ravages region

Thousands left without electricity in the wake of early April storm
An ice storm cut off electricity to Justin Stensland’s farm for four days beginning the evening of April 9. He and his brother, Jason, operate a 250-cow organic dairy near Larchwood, Iowa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
An ice storm cut off electricity to Justin Stensland’s farm for four days beginning the evening of April 9. He and his brother, Jason, operate a 250-cow organic dairy near Larchwood, Iowa.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON

By by Jerry Nelson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

A spring storm began churning its way across the nation's midsection on Tuesday, April 9, bringing winter-like conditions to the region and leaving a wide swath of misery and destruction in its wake.
The three-day snowstorm dumped more than a foot of heavy, wet snow in some places. One of the most destructive features of the storm was the freezing rain that fell on areas of southeastern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa.
Thick ice formed on every available surface, snapping countless tree limbs and devastating electric transmission grids. Power outages became widespread with up to 30,000 Sioux Falls residents and businesses without electrical service at one point.
Many towns had no electricity for several days, including the entire city of Worthington, Minn. Thousands of rural residents lost power. It took more than a week to fully restore electricity to some rural areas.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton called in the National Guard to assist with the recovery effort in the southwestern corner of the state, which bore the brunt of the ice storm.
Rural electric cooperatives lost a staggering number of utility poles. Perhaps hardest hit was Nobles Cooperative Electric, which suffered the loss of more than 2,000 utility poles. Nobles Cooperative Electric estimates that it will cost $3 million for restoration and $11 million for the rebuilding of its grid.
Additional utility crews were called in to assist, coming from as far away as northern Minnesota and Kansas City. Tangles of downed tree branches made towns and farmsteads look like war zones. Miles and miles of power lines lay on the ground - the poles that once held them up splintered like toothpicks.
Jason and Justin Stensland found themselves at the epicenter of the ice storm. The twin brothers live near Larchwood, Iowa, where they operate a 250-cow organic dairy. Their herd is milked in a robotic milking facility.
"We lost power on Tuesday night," Justin Stensland said. "We could tell by the way it was icing up that it might be a while before we got our electricity back, so we hooked up our new generator. But shortly after we started up the generator, a shaft inside of it snapped."
Suddenly finding themselves without an alternative source of power, the Stensland brothers scrambled to locate another generator as the ice storm continued to rage.
"We were eventually able to borrow a generator from our electrician," said Stensland. "The barn had been dark for five hours by then. The borrowed generator was barely big enough to run the robots, which meant there was no electricity available for our houses."
The Stensland family was able to obtain a smaller generator that was capable of powering a house.
The Stenslands missed not only the convenience of rural electricity, but also learned a harsh lesson about the costs of on-farm generation.
"Keeping the generators running cost $500 a day for diesel fuel," said Stensland. "We were very glad when our electrical service was finally restored on Saturday morning."
While power outages were fairly common in the area of the Minnesota/ Iowa border, there were some who escaped the ice storm relatively unscathed.
"We lost electricity twice for about half an hour each time," said John Teune who, with his family, milks 100 cows on their farm near Steen, Minn. "It was really just a minor annoyance."
Because he didn't lose his electric service, Teune was able to loan his generator to fellow dairyman Ron Bos. Bos and his family milk 100 cows on their farm near Hills, Minn. Their electricity went out when the power line that serves their farm was brought down by the freezing rain.
The Midwestern ethic of neighbor helping neighbor and pulling together was on full display following a roof collapse at Mike Zeinstra's dairy operation.
Zeinstra milks 530 cows on his farm near Holland, Minn. On the evening of April 13, a 72-foot wide section of his freestall barn roof caved in, trapping dozens of cows beneath a jumbled pile of snow, twisted sheet metal and splintered lumber.
"We had been concerned about all the weight from the heavy, wet snow on the roof, so we installed emergency brace posts in the older part of the barn," Zeinstra said. "But it was the newer part of the barn, which was built in 2001, that collapsed."
Word swiftly got out regarding the calamity at the Zeinstra farm.
"Even though it happened at 8:30 in the evening, it wasn't long before people began to arrive to lend a hand," Zeinstra said. "One neighbor came with his skid loader and another came with a telehandler."
The cows trapped beneath the rubble were all extricated alive, but Zeinstra's veterinarian eventually put down seven cows that were too badly injured to survive.
"That was the pen where I kept my high group, of course," Zeinstra said. "But the way I see it, cows can be replaced. I'm just glad that nobody was hurt when the roof came down or during the cleanup effort."
A crew of volunteers showed up at the Zeinstra farm on the following day, to help clear out the wreckage from the freestalls. Most of the freestalls were found to be usable. Thanks to the assistance from the numerous volunteers, Zeinstra was able to put cows back into the now-roofless pen the next day.
"My hat is off to my neighbors and to our community," Zeinstra said. "We couldn't have done it without their assistance. I really appreciate everything they did to help us quickly recover from the effects of our barn roof caving in."[[In-content Ad]]


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