I'm Dreaming of a White Arbor Day

Husker Home Place

This past week's Spring snowstorm reminded me of many others just like it.

Published on: April 16, 2013

I’m sure someone will blame our most recent Spring snowstorm on climate change. Last year’s drought was blamed on climate change too. For most Nebraskans, it is business as usual. Crazy weather is quite normal.

Tramping through the eight-plus inches of snow we received last week to feed calves, I thought back at how many of these April storms I’ve seen in my lifetime. There have been more than a few.

When I was dating my wife, she was living about 75 miles away in Madison. She was teaching 2nd graders at that time at St. Leonard’s Catholic School, so she was the instructor for First Communion. I promised her that I would make it to Madison on the day of First Communion and attend Mass with her. That was on April 6. That morning I awoke early to check cows and feed everything before I hit the road. The snow began falling in the dark as I fed cows and checked on three newborn calves that were born during the night.

HOLIDAY SCENE: The recent snowstorm made for a holiday scene, but the nearest holiday is Arbor Day.
HOLIDAY SCENE: The recent snowstorm made for a holiday scene, but the nearest holiday is Arbor Day.

The newborns had all nursed, so I bedded all the critters down, fed them and headed south to Madison. As I was driving, the weather deteriorated. Snow became more intense and the wind began to blow. By the time I reached St. Leonard’s Church, it was turning into a snowstorm. Everyone was assembled, so the Mass went on as scheduled.

After Mass, I listened to the radio for weather, and realized that the worst of the storm was actually in my neck of the woods. I drove back home in late-afternoon, hoping to make it before dark so I could check cows again and make sure everything was alright. The drive home was tough, with “whiteout” conditions most of the way. When I got home, two more calves had been born. I dried them and returned them to their mothers, and fed the herd again. The temperature that night dropped to ten below zero.

HEAVY BRANCHES: Late season snow carries tons of moisture, which is good for the soil, but bad for tree branches.
HEAVY BRANCHES: Late season snow carries tons of moisture, which is good for the soil, but bad for tree branches.

Another instance happened when I was in college in Lincoln, and my parents and brother came down for a visit on April 30. In late afternoon as they headed back to Crofton, it began to rain in Lincoln. By the time they reached Norfolk, precipitation had turned to snow. They followed the tracks of a semi-trailer in the snow north on Highway 81 until the trucker pulled into Hilltop Restaurant just south of the Highway 81 and Highway 20 junction near Randolph. The electricity was out, so they walked into Hilltop in the darkness. After getting something to eat by candlelight from the grill, they bedded down, along with several other weary travelers, by pushing booths together in the restaurant. The next day, May 1, they drove home with over a foot of snow melting along the shoulders of the highway.

The first Arbor Day in Nebraska was held on April 10, back in 1872. I don’t know what the weather was like on that day, but it was eventually moved to April 22, Arbor Day founder, J. Sterling Morton’s birthday. Now, it is the last Friday in April. Those of us living up north are glad it was moved to later in the month.

The first year we officially celebrated Arbor Day in Crofton was 1991. Serving on the local tree board, then-Mayor Vern Wuebben and I scooped snow aside on that first Crofton Arbor Day, so we could plant three English Oak trees in our city parks. Students gathered around the planting site that day in their heavy coats, hats, gloves and snow boots. The English Oak trees still stand, so I guess Vern and I did a good job of planting, in spite of the snowy day. With the unusually cold and snowy weather this Spring, maybe this year’s Arbor Day will be a repeat.

In any case, we are thankful for the moisture across the state, and, as I’ve written here before, we won’t complain, even about late season snow. This is Nebraska, so when we are thinking about the weather, we should expect the unexpected.

Here is this week's question for you. What do you remember about crazy April snowstorms of the past and what were you doing at the time? Seeding oats, calving, trying to plant corn? Let us know your stories.

Be sure to watch Nebraska Farmer online and read our current April print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at Dateline Drought. And watch this blog the last Friday of the month for my new “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!