May 4, 2020

American Climate Video: After a Deadly Flood That Was ‘Like a Hurricane,’ a Rancher Mourns the Loss of His Cattle

Norfolk, NE
InsideClimate News
Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme rainfall and flooding
Rancher Merle Stuthman. Credit: InsideClimate News

Climate Signals Summary: Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events, as well as increasing total precipitation in the Midwest, and this increases the risk of flooding. In the spring of 2019, there was severe flooding in the Mississippi River Valley and the Missouri River basin

Article Excerpt: Nebraska—Unlike many ranchers, Merle Stuthman sees his Texas Longhorn cattle not just as a source of income—showing them at state fairs and selling their horns, hide and meat—but as animal companions he comes to care for and think of almost as pets. 


"Can you say 'hi' to these folks?" Stuthman said to Nelly, one of his calves. "Your mommy died, didn't she? Yeah. She was my second best trophy cow. So you're gonna have to carry on now, aren't you?"

Nelly's mom was one of 10 Texas Longhorns that Stuthman lost in March 2019 when a deluge of rain suddenly flooded his farm. Three were carrying unborn calves, including two trophy cows. Stuthman had spent thousands showing them at farm events. 


As Nebraska's climate has warmed over the last 30 years, precipitation has also increased. The 12 months prior to this flood had been the fifth-wettest in the state since 1895. When the rains began in mid-March, the ground was still frozen, so rather than percolating into the soil, stormwater rushed to waterways, leading to quick, massive floods across the region. The heavy precipitation can be partially attributed to climate change, as warmer air can hold larger volumes of water, leading to heavier rain and snow events. 

At Stuthman's farm, the water rose rapidly and the wind whipped at 60 mph. The water raged across his land. "It's like a hurricane, out at sea," he said. "It was terrifying."


The nearby Elkhorn River crested at 24.6 feet—nearly 20 feet higher than the previous record. 

"They even call this a thousand year flood now," Stuthman said. "This old barn up here that's fallen down has never had water on it. It had 40 inches of water. That's how high it was."