Relentless winter affects Prairie Center


Cynthia Sheeley

‘We were snowed in for three weeks’

GOSHEN COUNTY – The impact of large snow drifts continues to plague the Prairie Center area even as spring draws closer. The Goshen County Road and Bridge have been working hard battling these massive snow drifts in order to make county roads passable.

Prairie Center is a small community made up of mostly farmers and ranchers in the northern part of Goshen County. Prairie Center is east of Jay Em and close to the Niobrara County line.

Throughout this winter the Prairie Center area has been plagued by many substantial storms bringing in high snowfall and extreme wind. This weather has drifted in residents, animals and roads. These conditions have precluded ranchers from getting to their livestock and prevented residents from traveling to town.

“We have just been inundated by snow up here,” a resident of the Prairie Center area, Joann Jordan, said at the end of February. “This has just been horrible. We haven’t been able to get out to go to town for quite a while.”

Prairie Center resident and Owner/Operator of the R Lazy S Ranch Angie (Babcock) Chavez told the Telegram the bad weather hit them hard right before Christmas and has only started to let up recently. The drifts around them were large enough to block their road and completely bury their large round hay bale stack, two vehicles and their propane tank.

“We were snowed in for three weeks,” Chavez recalled. “At one point, we couldn’t even see that house because of the drift. (The house is less than 300 yards from theirs).”

Blake Ochsner, with the Ochsner Roth Cattle Company, said while they weren’t affected as badly as those closer to the Prairie Center schoolhouse, they had to use a tractor a lot of the time to get through the snow in order to feed their cattle.

While there have been many strong storms this winter, Meteorologist Gerald Claycomb, from the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, said, “There was a pretty good storm back in February from the 20 to the 23. There was some pretty heavy snowfall along Pine Ridge, and it’s been pretty cold with a lot of strong winds. We’re thinking that the strong winds blew that snow from Niobrara County down into northern Goshen County.”

Claycomb said this storm dropped around 15 inches of snow in the southern part of Niobrara County. The significantly cold temperatures this winter would have kept snow soft and it would have easily been picked up and blown by the wind. The close proximity probably brought the snow down into the Prairie Center area where it piled up and caused problems.

“The last storm, about a month ago, I told (my husband) if the electricity goes out we’re toast, we wouldn’t have water or heat,” Chavez said. “Ben came out and got our cows, all but five, on Monday the 20 of February and took them to town. We stayed in a motel until that Friday.”

Chavez said when they came back, they had to rely on the Road and Bridge employees and neighbors to get back to their house after the storm was over.

“It’s been quite a winter,” Chavez said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen snowbanks like this.”

All winter, the Road and Bridge employees have been working hard to open roads affected by the severe weather. 

To help with this problem the Goshen County Commission approved the purchase of a snow blower machine at the emergency meeting held on Feb. 6. The machine is a 1991 Oshkosh HB-2513-MP3 snow blower truck. While the truck has been down for maintenance recently, it has been essential in moving the tremendous amount of snow off of the roads.

Almost a month since the last substantial storm, the roads in the area are still almost impassable. Around the Prairie Center schoolhouse, there are many long stretches where only one lane of slick and muddy road is open with massive snow piles on each side. In many spots, these drifts are taller than a crossover SUV.

“(The snow blower truck) was a good investment for this year,” Ochsner said. “I have been up north on those roads, and they were so blown shut that there just wasn’t a place to push the snow to open them up. That was about their only option.”

“I would just like to give a big thank you to Road and Bridge,” Jordan said. “These guys have been working hard to get us out. They have been out here after dark many days.”

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