No matter where you live in North America, you may have been hearing that long-range weather forecasts are calling for some pretty bad weather for many parts of the country. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports sea surface temperatures along the equator have decreased dramatically, setting us up for a strong La Nina in the season ahead. Generally speaking La Nina, an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon, brings wetter, cooler weather for upper North America and drier conditions for the southern United States. The worst of La Nina’s cold and snow is slated for the Pacific Northwest, the northern Plains and western Great Lakes regions. So cities like Portland and Seattle that escaped last year with a very nice winter should expect a much colder, snowier winter. Areas around Fargo, Minneapolis and Milwaukee should also receive above-normal winter snowfalls. 

Other parts of the county predicted to receive above-normal winter snowfall include Chicago, Omaha, Detroit and Cleveland. Forecasts call for severe cold in Alaska and western and central Canada, too. The Central Rockies are expected to experience greater-than-normal swings between winter's coldest and warmest days as a result of conflicting warm and cold air masses. The dry area will be the lower southern half of the United States, from east to west, which is expected to receive less rainfall than average contributing to continued drought conditions for those areas. The East Coast and Northeast should get average precipitation and weather -- no Snowmageddon this year!

And the best weather in North America this winter? Florida, which could help beach resorts recover from the economic downturn associated with the oil spill. So what does this mean to you as a horse owner?  Depending on where you live it may mean that it’s time to consider your emergency and winter storm preparedness around your property. Here are a few points to review with household or farm/ranch members: 

  1. Do you have a flashlight for the house and barn hanging in easy access locations? Are extra batteries on hand? These are cheap to buy in large qualities from warehouse-type stores. Get them now before storm warnings send everyone to the store.
  2. How about fuel for generators, cook stoves and lanterns? Assess what equipment you have or need and get fuel tanks filled.
  3. Battery-powered headlamps that free up your hands are excellent equipment to have on hand if the electricity goes out. These can be purchased at camping stores or through catalogues. Store them in an easily accessible area, like near doorways.
  4. A battery-powered radio as well as a weather radio is very useful during storms and power outages. 
  5. A car cell phone charger is extremely important. When power outages and phone service go out we depend on cell phones. One with a dead battery is no help at all.
  6. Develop a back-up plan for watering your horses before you lose power to your private well. Water can be stored in rain barrels or garbage cans. Emergency officials generally recommend having a three-day supply of water on hand. That would be a minimum of 30 gallons of water per horse. Access to a creek or lake may work as your back-up watering source. Train your horses to drink from these areas so they are familiar with them before hand.
  7. Set up a water supply that won’t freeze or get icy cold. Horses prefer water temperatures of about 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit and tend to drink less when water is cold. A decrease in water consumption can lead to colic, so make an effort to ensure your horses are drinking enough. It is important to realize that horses cannot get enough moisture by eating snow. On very cold days either break and remove ice in the morning and again in the evening or consider getting a stock tank heater or heated stall buckets. Plan ahead and have this equipment on hand before the snow flies. Another reminder: Older horses or those with dental problems may not be able to drink very cold water and may require additional warming of their water.  In these cases you can warm their stall buckets with some hot water from your teakettle.
  8. Consider insulating pipes and faucets with heat tape or other insulation materials. Check with your local hardware store for recommendations.
  9. Check your blankets for rips or other needed mending or washing if you plan to blanket your horse this winter. If they are dirty, send them out now for cleaning before that first cold front moves through.
  10. Consider your own clothing needs – for riding, daily chores and farm work. Nothing is worse than taking care of your horse in the freezing cold when you are wet from head to toe and chilled to the bone. Do you need a good waterproof jacket? Mud boots? Insulated riding boots?  Insulated, waterproof gloves? A warm coat?  Maybe this is the year to invest in some of the high-tech cold or rainy weather gear featured at outdoor clothing stores. Think about layering -- a vest with a barn coat and a waterproof shell along with proper gloves and outdoor boots works well.
  11. What about snow removal equipment? Is it needed for your area? If so, do you have what you need? Is what you have in need any repairs? It’s much easier to get those kinds of things in order now then when those first snowflakes fly.