Jerry Nelson: April blizzards

Jerry Nelson Special to the Farm Forum
Farm Forum

As I write this an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned blizzard is roaring outside our farmhouse, pounding on the windows, screaming that it wants “in”. The boiling gusts of snow often make it impossible to see the barn. We are reduced to measuring our world in mere feet of visibility.

“It’s getting better!” I chirp hopefully to my wife, “I can almost see the east fence!” Said fence is normally a one-minute stroll from our door.

I don’t like to complain, but I want my money back. A few months ago I put in an order for some balmy springtime weather. Yet here we are at mid-April, still frozen to our snow shovels.

This marks the fourth weekend in a row that we’ve been afflicted by a snowstorm. It’s as if winter began on March 21 instead of December 21. Even so, this blizzard is nothing compared to those we endured when I was growing up on our South Dakota dairy farm.

Many of us (especially me) have selective memories and habitually exaggerate our pasts to make them seem more epic. But thanks to the internet, I was able to find weather archives that confirm my memories. When I was ten years old, we had a winter that set records which stand to this day. In other words, the snow didn’t seem extremely deep simply because I was a scrawny little kid who wasn’t much taller than a yardstick.

Blizzards – even those that Amazon shipped so late that they don’t arrive until April – aren’t anything new for us denizens of the prairie. We know how to deal with such storms: you hunker down and only go outside to do the bare necessities such as milk the cows or inspect a corner of the barn. Stringing a rope between buildings so that you can find your way back to the house might be a good idea. You shouldn’t rely your GPS-enabled smart phone, which could get dropped into a snowdrift. Plus there’s no app called “Help! I’m lost in a snowstorm!”

Proper blizzard preparation means laying in an ample supply of essentials. This explains why the storage areas of our homes resemble a Sam’s Club.

Some winters ago my parents hosted a pair of weekend guests at our dairy farm. Stella and Sal, my sister’s in-laws, were from Long Island. We could sit and listen to them talk for hours. This wasn’t just because of their colorful anecdotes, but mainly due to their distinctive accents. Despite all empirical evidence, they insisted that we were the ones who talked funny.

Just when Stella and Sal’s visit was slated to end, a three-day blizzard thundered down upon us. Travel became impossible and our lives were reduced to getting the cows milked and the calves fed.

Hunkering down was routine for us and a topic of fascination for Stella and Sal. They found our stoic acceptance of our situation a bit strange. But when the wind is gusting at approximately 500 MPH and the snow is falling at rates that could form a new glacier within hours, there isn’t much a person can do.

On the morning of the second day we noticed that our guests had become somewhat cranky. This was understandable; we are all susceptible to bouts of cabin fever. We soon learned that the issue went deeper than mere forced confinement in an isolated farmhouse with relative strangers.

It turned out that our guests had neglected to bring an ample supply of cigarettes. Nobody in our family used tobacco, so we couldn’t offer any relief.

I suppose that running low on anything is never a problem in the city. You simply pop down to your local bodega and pick up a pack of cigarettes or a single banana or bring along your toothbrush and buy a squeeze of toothpaste.

Things grew increasingly testy as time wore on. Snipes and not-so-shaded insults were as numerous as the snowflakes falling outside the window. It got so that Sal couldn’t take it anymore. He bundled up, slogged through the waist-deep drifts to their van and ransacked it for stray cigarettes. When his search came up empty, Sal trudged back to the house, his face twisted with the anguished expression of a man headed for the gallows.

The third day found Stella and Sal pacing the floor like caged animals. Seconds after the township’s snowplow chugged past our driveway, they were in their van. They tore off toward town and we haven’t seen them since.

They must have really missed their hometown bodega. In any case, they’re welcome to come back if they ever want to help us hunker through a blizzard again.

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.