Making the most of a late spring snow, these three created snow sculptures in the front yard of Rod and Aubrey Johnson's Harmony home last Thursday afternoon.  From left are Cody Luek, Raen Johnson and Dacoda Johnson.
Making the most of a late spring snow, these three created snow sculptures in the front yard of Rod and Aubrey Johnson's Harmony home last Thursday afternoon. From left are Cody Luek, Raen Johnson and Dacoda Johnson.
Residents of Fillmore County were making a gradual, yet steady approach toward spring after experiencing wintry weather several times during April. The temperatures were in the 70s and spring-like rains were beginning to turn everything green. It was the end of April, heading into May and everything was looking like normal.

It was a trap.

The snow and ice storm that hit during the evening of May 1 and continued into the next day left people reeling and grasping for normalcy. The storm caused area schools to close or be delayed a few hours, city and county highway departments to start up the plows, and farmers to once again push back their planting plans. Since much of the snow has melted, both potentially negative and surprisingly positive impacts have been seen.

Agricultural, environmental impacts

"We are in uncharted territory," described Fillmore County Extension Educator Jerrold Tesmer. "There is nothing comparable to this."

Tesmer explained he had visited an alfalfa field during the afternoon of May 1, before the storm. Winter kill has been an unfortunate reality for several alfalfa fields, but most fields have remained largely unharmed.

Tesmer pointed out that many farmers had not been able to do any planting before the snow came and were mostly spreading manure. The snow, he said, would actually help the ground soak in the nutrients from the fertilizer.

However, it is pushing the time of year when not getting the corn and beans planted could equal a depressed yield. "You can plant corn up to June 10 and be fine, but you do start losing your maximum yield starting in mid-May," Tesmer shared.

The moisture from the snow melt is appreciated, but Tesmer said temperature is more of a concern right now than anything else. "We need a major change in temperatures," he said. "The next two weeks is a real critical time for us."

He estimated planting would get into full activity a week from the snowfall. Tesmer felt the biggest effect is being sustained by livestock who have had very little grazing opportunity because the grass still hasn't grown very much.

In a season where runoff and decreased water quality has been discussed often, Donna Rasumussen from the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District shared that the recent snow event most likely will not have that great of an impact. "It seems like it was more of a weather event rather than a climate event," she shared.

Even so, she stressed that since Southeast Minnesota is a vulnerable area where these extreme events can be more damaging, it is important to prepare through proper land management practices. She noted how some farmers had already begun tilling, which loosened the topsoil and made it more vulnerable to erosion. Although not all events can be mitigated, Rasmussen said fields which don't have much for waterways or buffer will be those that experience more erosion.

As for the amount of moisture received, Minnesota Department of Agriculture soil scientist Kevin Kuehner said Southeast Minnesota is quickly catching up in terms of its drought status. "Most of the water from the snow actually soaked into the ground. It's been replenishing our sub-soil moisture deficits," he shared. Getting back to normal conditions since last year's drought bodes well for all farmers.

Highway departments

Fillmore County Highway Maintenance Supervisor Brent Kohn said before the May snowfall, the county had already seen it as bad as ever before. "In February and March, we put as much material on the roads at that time as we did all of last year," he shared.

The biggest problem was the ice. Kohn said the county usually has to deal with around two ice events per year. According to him, they experienced five to seven in just the month of March.

"Every time you freeze and thaw a road, the condition of it gets worse. I think that's why the roads are in the condition they are in now. Also they are carrying more weight on them," Kohn stated.

He said the county received a lot of complaints about the gravel roads not being plowed. Kohn explained that if the ground had still been frozen, they would have gone out. "The gravel roads were thawed; they're too soft. We decided not to plow any road with six inches of snow or less."

The roads in the western part of the county which received around a foot of snow were plowed. Kohn said he probably plowed more rock into the ditch that day than the entire season combined. He also estimated close to 50 mailboxes were also taken down. "This was a bad one," he said.

Guessing that the snow would melt on its own in a few days, the county did not put down much salt or sand. The main expenses of the May storm were in fuel and labor.

Kohn estimates that the county used around 8,500 yards of material on icy roads this year, not including the rock yet to be down on the gravel roads. According to Kohn, this means the county used more material in just a couple months than in the past two years combined.

The recent storm has also put the county behind on their road work. Seasonal road restrictions for the spring were lifted by the state on May 6, but will not be lifted by the county until May 13.

City crews also had to decide whether to immediately address the snow or not. Rushford City Public Works staff member Dave Lombard reported that the amount of snow received in the city was enough to warrant just a single pass through with the city plows. The city received six to seven inches and Lombard said less was received in the valley than on the ridges surrounding the city. "We were pretty fortunate down here," he shared.

The city of Preston received around nine inches and took care of the city streets. "It's quite a change from last year," shared city administrator Joe Hoffman. "We incurred a greater expense in wear and tear on the vehicles." He explained that the city felt since the snow was very wet, that plowing what had already fallen would help melt it more quickly.

School days, athletics

Even so, Fillmore Central schools cancelled classes on both the Thursday and Friday of the week. The school board had recently approved several make-up days for past snow days, pushing the last student day to May 21. According to Superintendent Richard Keith, the school plans on releasing students the same day, despite the two cancellations.

"I don't think it's impacted our schooling all that much," shared Keith. He mentioned the state does require a certain number of hours for schools to meet during the year and Fillmore Central had easily met those requirements.

Several other area schools cancelled classes on Thursday and were either closed or delayed several hours on Friday. Student-athletes have been impacted a lot this "spring" season. Many games which were rescheduled from earlier weather events have now been cancelled permanently because of the continued poor weather.

Snow totals

The amount of snow that fell in Fillmore County varied from east to west. Cities like Rushford and Mabel received around five inches to seven inches whereas Spring Valley received over a foot of snow. Roads were made treacherous because of the slushy nature of the snow.

"It was like the first snowstorm of the season. There were a lot of cars in the ditch," shared Kohn. "People must have forgotten winter pretty quickly."