The blizzard the region experienced Feb. 23-25 is not one that will soon be forgotten.
    “It’s the kind of storm you’ll talk about forever,” said Cindy Morgan, public engagement coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and social media meteorologist. “This one might be like the 1991 blizzard. I would put it on that magnitude. When you get to the point where you can’t travel through the storm even days after dealing with it, this is quite rare.”
    The storm, which moved from South Dakota across southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, and into west central Wisconsin, dumped over 10 inches of wet, heavy snow in the area. The precipitation plus wind speeds reaching over 50 miles per hour caused for whiteout conditions and closed down most roads in the storm’s path. Morgan called the road conditions treacherous and impassable.
    “The snowplows were out as long as possible, but in the middle of this, because those drifts were getting so high, at times they were getting stuck or they would miss the road and slide off,” Morgan said.
    MnDOT drivers were reporting drifts over the hood of their snowplows, Morgan said.
    “Eventually it shifted from a response effort to a passable system for emergency vehicles,” Morgan said.
    Because of the impassable road conditions, many milk truck drivers had difficulty on the road or were unable to make stops Feb. 24.
    Tim Neitzel owns Neitzel Trucking, which has 15 trucks that picks up milk in Buffalo, Trempealeau, Jackson, La Crosse, Vernon and Monroe counties in western Wisconsin. Although he was not on the roads that day, he was coordinating his company’s trucks that were trying to make it to dairy farms.
    “It was pretty bad,” Neitzel said. “The snow was so thick and so deep.”
    Neitzel spent most of Feb. 24 trying to find new routes for drivers when they came across road closures due to drifting snow or calling in equipment when a truck driver needed help. Four trucks went into the ditch that day.
    “It was definitely one of the worst days we have experienced in a while,” Neitzel said. “It was definitely a challenging day. It was exhausting.”
    Josh Finnesgard, who owns Finnesgard Trucking with his dad, Bruce, also faced horrendous road conditions near Goodhue, Minn.
    “I have never been scared to take the truck out of the shop, but that day (Feb. 24) I was nervous,” Finnesgard said, who hauls milk in Goodhue, Olmsted and Fillmore Counties in Minnesota.
    For many of his stops, Finnesgard relied on dairy farmers to plow out roads and driveways in order to get to the barns. The day also included a two-hour delay when the snow stranded his truck.
    “It was whiteout conditions. I was driving, but then everything went black for 10 seconds, and I buried the truck right there in the middle of Highway 58,” Finnesgard said. “The snow was up over the fuel tank.”
    It took three attempts by three different tractors along with a snapped chain and busted tow strap to get the truck out.
    “It’s definitely one of the worst storms I been through,” Finnesgard said.
    Although no farms on their stops had to dump milk, several of them had to wait for milk pick up until the next day.
    For dairy farmers who did not have enough room on their dairies to store additional milk, it meant unloading the bulk tank. Like many other farm families in the area, the Schwartz family had to dump over 40,000 pounds of milk on their 550-cow dairy near Fountain, Minn.
    “It was a lot of milk down the drain,” Ellie Schwartz said.
    Their milk truck driver could not make it to their farm for over 24 hours.
    “It was bad,” said Ellie’s husband, Terry, about the weather conditions. “I’ve never had it where they couldn’t pick up my milk before, and I’ve been farming since 1982.”
    Ellie agreed the storm was one of the worst she has experienced.
    “It was crazy,” Ellie said. “I’ve never seen snow piled up this high in our yard. The drifts are 8-9 feet tall.”
    Terry described what it was like when he drove to his daughter’s house in the tractor in order to bring her to the farm for chores.
    “We could hardly see,” he said. “We shouldn’t have even been out there. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
    Four of the Schwartzes’ employees hunkered down in the parlor office with blankets and pillows while not milking. Ellie made them food throughout their stay.
    The lost milk is another blow to the Schwartz family in an already compromising dairy economy.
    “It’s going to hurt if we only get paid for half of it,” Ellie said. “It’s going to hurt a lot. The prices are so low anyway. We can’t afford to give it away or not get paid for it.”
    But, she also knows it could have been worse.
    “I would rather dump than have to go through what these people with barn collapses are going through,” Ellie said. “I feel terrible for them. We considered ourselves lucky compared to what’s happened with these other ones.”
    The weather also impacted the processing facilities. On Feb. 24, AMPI only received 10 percent of its typical milk load at its plant in Rochester, Minn.
    “It really was about a three to four-day impact at the plant,” said Steve Voss, division manager of the plant.
    To help the truck drivers, AMPI extended receiving hours.
    “We received around the clock to help those guys out,” Voss said. “Typically milk that comes in during the afternoon wasn’t coming in until 10 or 11 at night. Those guys worked their tails off. There was a significant amount of milk dumped.”
    They also had a delayed start Feb. 25 for two reasons – they did not have milk in from the day before and employees could not reach the plant.
    Even though there was not much milk in on Feb. 24, the plant had 90 percent of its milk the next day.
    “We really have to give a lot of credit to the milk haulers,” Voss said. … “They saw this [weather coming] and they started to go out there on Saturday trying to get ahead of the storm to help get as much milk picked up. The way it was sounding is that they were not going to travel much on Sunday. They did a great job getting as much ahead of the storm as they could. Obviously there’s only so much you can do.”