Mar 24, 2019

The Historic April Snow of 2018

Late heavy snowfall in Wisconsin a year ago had lasting effects on plants and wildlife

By Steve Jordan 

Oh boy! The weather during the week leading up to the big snow, dubbed “Snowstorm Xanto,” was warm with a hint of an early spring.

Some early perennials were sprouting and greening up. The winter turkey flocks were breaking up and spreading out to claim their nesting areas. The cardinals were whistling their unmistakable mating calls every other minute of daylight. The duck and goose migration was in full swing. The deer, after surviving a mild winter, were in great physical shape.

The walleye run was starting to heat up on the Wolf and Fox rivers. The robins had migrated up to their Wisconsin nesting sites along with the bluebirds, swallows and almost all of our popular song birds.

Then it happened – 18 to 33 inches of snow was recorded across Wisconsin and was named “Snowstorm Xanto” by Winter Storm Central. The storm hit with very high winds. Some of us opened our doors to peek outside and the drifts were up to the top of the door. How were we going to dig out? This storm was an inconvenience for us as humans, but devastating for some species of wildlife and crops.

The pollinator prairie fields which were sprouting became smothered or stunted for the entire growing season of 2018. The prairie grasses were stunted, but recovered eventually. Time will tell if the prairie flowers show up better this year or if they were forever damaged.

The winter flocks of turkey that spread out to their new ranges came back to their wintering area. Because of that, the turkey hunters had to be in a wintering area to have a chance at Mr. Tom. The turkeys were highly concentrated during the first two weeks of turkey hunting.

The cardinals kept up with their mating calls and were pretty much unaffected by the snow. Being a winter resident in Wisconsin, they couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

In my area, the bluebirds flew south again in along with the tree swallows. But the robins didn't seem to get the memo. Many starved to death. People tried to save the robins by putting out meal worms, but the meal worms disappeared off the store shelves as fast as the snow shovels.

The deer seemed to get caught off guard like we did. The snow held for a couple of weeks and made food pretty scarce. On my property, I plowed a 30-foot wide, 200-yard long section of food plot consisting of a good turnip mix and rye grass.  I had many deer and turkeys lined up in that stretch daily.  Because of the mild winter leading up to this snowstorm, there were lots of cobs left on the standing corn.  Handily the cobs were just above the depth of the snow.  This also turned into a very popular feeding area for the deer and turkeys.  But the late snow did make it tough on the deer that lost their food source.  The antler growth and body weight seemed to be down in many areas, even noticeably right up to the fall hunt.

The walleye run all but shut down once the snow came. The winter snowstorm made the fishing really tough and it never fully recovered once the spring wore on.  With no frost in the ground as the snow melted, it carried a lot of soil with it and created high, muddy water that lasted for weeks.

The ducks and geese stayed put on their migration route.  We have a marsh and a couple of ponds that are popular on the migration.  Because of the storm, they stayed at our place for about two weeks.  Normally they are in and out in a few days.  Hundreds of the ducks and geese were trying to feed at our songbird feeders.  It was amazing to watch! 

The weather stayed cool for awhile after “Snowstorm Xanto”. We may have had our 100 year flood if the week after the storm would have brought April showers.  The farmers and we food plot guys were delayed a good two weeks in getting our early crops in.  All in all, though, it turned out to be a good growing season.  

This is the time of year to get organized for food plotting. I like to draw up my plans with plant varieties and placements.  When the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees or more I will plant my early crops of soybeans and corn.  Sunflowers can get very weedy if planted too early.  I will work on weed control early in the year and plant them between June 1stand July 4th

If you get a chance to attend a sport show this year, make sure you check the seminar listings.  Many will have a food plot seminar on at least one of the days.  My wife, Kim, and I are working a booth at three shows this spring.  If you want to stop in to say hello, we will be in the Louisiana Purchase Ranch booth representing an outfitter who offers mule deer and elk hunting trips in Colorado. Those shows are the Wisconsin Sport Show in Eau Claire on March 15-17, the Northwest Sportshow in Minneapolis on March 21-24. and the Outdoor Life/Field & Stream Show in Madison on March 29-31. 

Another way to keep informed about planting food plots is to attend seminars that might be held in your area at local sport shops or seed stores. I will be presenting on food plots at CHS Larsen Cooperative in New London on April 18thfrom 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.  See the advertisement on p. ___ for more information. 

Think spring, and hopefully without another whopping snowstorm.

Steve Jordan's passion is planting food plots for wildlife and helping others with their plots.  Steve and his wife, Kim, also enjoy hunting in Colorado for mule deer and elk. If you have any interest in hunting Colorado or if you have questions on food plots, contact Steve or Kim at skjordan1010@gmail.com.