On-farm Severe Weather Safety

“Our risk for severe weather and some tornadoes has gotten enhanced for tomorrow – can you give me about 10 minutes? I’ve got to get a forecast out,” News on 6 Chief Meteorologist, and rancher, Travis Meyer asked over the line.

It’s storm season in the heartland.

A meteorologist of more than 40 years, Meyer grew up on a farm in southcentral Nebraska. His family of German heritage settled the ground more than 140 years ago. “I wish they could have known that it doesn’t rain in southcentral Nebraska as much as it does in eastern Nebraska,” he said. His fascination with weather began as a 3-year-old, sitting on the front porch next to his grandfather, while his dad worked the farm. They would watch the storms and pray for rain. He recalled how, “You would see the lightning out of the southwest, and you’d be waiting, hoping.”

He’s passionate about weather and getting the information right. As meteorologists are surrounded by data and weather maps, often “You don’t get to really be in the elements, so to speak, because we live on a computer screen. I mean, that’s our world, that’s our life. But I can’t do that,” Meyer said. “Being out on the ranch is what saves me. It just puts me in the weather, in the outdoors and I just love it.”

Meyer has a cow/calf operation, and the family also used to be involved in reining horses. “I love Angus-Hereford cross, and Black Baldies are kind of my favorite. They’re pretty good temperament, and when you’re older, you can’t jump fences,” he said, laughing. “I’ve tried to stay away from spring calving because severe weather happens in the spring, so all of mine are fall calving.”

When asked if he had ever been caught at the farm during severe weather, he didn’t hesitate. “I’ve been caught out in bad storms many times. You know, you’re trying to get the cattle in, and especially get our horses into their stalls and all safe and secure before the bad storms were hitting.”

When a solid home, tornado shelter or basement may be miles away, and you’re caught in a severe storm, keep in mind these on-farm severe weather safety tips.

Safety Tips for Farmers, Ranchers and Horsemen

  •  Download a trusted weather app. “I think that’s a very good precursor to the actual storms happening. A weather app helps inform them and keeps them ahead of the storm,” suggests Meyer. Another benefit, he adds, is if you have multiple farms, or family and friends in other towns, you can set up notifications for several areas.
  •  Identify a safe place before you need it. If severe weather catches you at the farm, where will you take cover? Meyer says, “A barn is not really a safe place at all. You have to look for a reinforced structure, and most barns are pole barns, and they’re not quite as structurally sound as you could find in a brick home with many walls. In my barn, we originally had a wash rack for our horses. So, I know that there was some plumbing on the walls that was reinforced. Being in your vehicle is also not a good place.”

Meyer recommends that those facing immediate tornado risk look for lower elevations, ditches or culverts. If flood water from heavy rain is a concern, and you’re nowhere near a basement or reinforced structure, you can try to outrun it (very strategically so). “Look at the storm, and if you’re face-to-face with a tornado, you want to go at right angles away from the tornado using a vehicle,” recommends Meyer. “Hurry up and get into a ditch if you can’t outrun it.”

 But, what if there just isn’t enough time?

Meyer recommends that, “If you don’t have time and you’re in your barn, you have to wrap yourself into blankets and especially your head. Find something very sturdy, like a feed room, and then surround yourself with anything that is excessively sturdy. The problem is that if you’re in a tornado, debris is what’s going to get you. It’s not the wind. It’s what’s falling on you, it’s what’s blowing into you. If you can alleviate that as a problem, there’s a high probability you’re going to walk out with a few scratches versus a broken body.”

Overall, find a reinforced area or get down low below the ground surface so debris will blow over you.

  • Ask yourself if you should take that risk. From experience, Meyer says the greatest risk often presented toward farmers and ranchers is getting just one more thing done before the storm blows in.

“I need to get that tractor in. I need to put the pickup and horse trailer up… You’re thinking of all these other things that you’re trying to get accomplished, and the countdown clock to an actual storm or lightning strike is on – even though you might know it. You’re trying to beat the weather elements, and I think that’s where it’s very dangerous and where I recommend ranchers and farmers be more cognizant of,” said Meyer. “That’s probably the biggest thing that I tend to see with ranchers, farmers and folks who work outside. They push the limits, even though they’re smart and use a lot of common sense. You push limits a little bit because you know that you’ve got important and expensive stuff sitting out there, and you want to protect it. But I do think that’s a place where you have to stop and go, OK, here’s the situation. Do I want to take that risk?”

Safety Tips for Livestock and Horses

  • If possible, bring animals in during a severe weather watch. Don’t wait until it’s a warning. Kris Hiney, PhD, Oklahoma State University assistant professor and Extension equine specialist, specializes in disaster preparedness for horses and livestock. When asked whether to keep horses stalled or turn them loose in a pasture for better hopes of survival, Dr. Hiney replied, “It’s a hard call to know what’s best during severe weather. Overall, being sheltered is better. But it really depends on how sturdy the barn is. We advise to not have any loose material that could be a flying projectile and to have everything locked down tight.”

 Have basic first-aid items on hand, such as wound care spray, gauze pads and vetwrap, should they be needed for any injuries caused by debris during the storm.

  • When severe weather is predicted, take steps to prepare well in advance. Dr. Hiney recommends that you:
  • Have items safely secured in the barn to avoid more debris.
  • Store enough fresh water to provide 5 to 10 gallons per horse, per day, should the water shut off.
  • Have a current photo to prove ownership when relocating, in case they are turned loose or are separated from the property.
  • Microchip horses for the best chances of reuniting.
  • Label contact information using livestock paint, by writing with a Sharpie on their hooves or braiding a luggage tag into horses’ manes.

Continue learning about livestock and horse care at ValleyVet.com.

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Contact: Aimee Robinson
Aimee@ValleyVet.com / 785-713-6567