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North Dakota is digging out from a historic Spring blizzard


North Dakota is digging out from a spring blizzard. It dropped 3 feet of snow just outside the city of Minot and shut down schools and businesses. For farmers and ranchers, it promised a temporary reprieve from a drought. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: James Green owns a cattle ranch west of Towner, N.D., where he also runs the town's lone supermarket. While scanning a customer's groceries, he's looking out the window to about 2 feet of snow, higher in the drifts.

JAMES GREEN: You know, it just - getting that big dump of snow for three days straight - it was just a nice shot of moisture, I guess, going into the spring.

SIEGLER: More snow than they got all winter, he figures. Even over the phone, you can tell he's grinning.

GREEN: I haven't seen a snowfall this heavy in a while.

SIEGLER: Towner and surrounding McHenry County calls itself North Dakota's cattle capital. Ranchers like Greene have been forced to downsize their herds recently as the state continues to experience a historic drought. No moisture means brown pastures, and producers who have been able to stay afloat have had to drive far to find expensive feed.

GREEN: It's a relief, just from the standpoint it gives us hope for the upcoming grazing season without having to sell off, you know, a bunch of cows.

SIEGLER: There is a downside. These blizzards are hitting right in the middle of calving season for most ranchers. And as folks dig out, reports are starting to come in that producers have lost some newborns. Rachel Wald is an agricultural extension officer with North Dakota State University.

RACHEL WALD: This is - I'm going to tell you - one heck of a way to get moisture, because it definitely puts a lot more stress on people keeping calves alive.

SIEGLER: Climate scientists warn that North Dakota, at the geographical center of North America, is going to be even more vulnerable to erratic weather swings as the Earth warms. Recent months have been some of the driest and warmest ever recorded and now the biggest spring blizzard in at least 25 years.

WALD: It is a lot of ups and downs. And I can tell you, being a part of historic events is getting kind of tiring.

SIEGLER: Wald says usually a spring blizzard hits, and then it warms up and melts quickly. But snow and unusually cold temperatures are forecast across North Dakota for much of the next week.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.