Survey Halted - But For Good Reason

Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, May 20, 2013

Terry LiddickWell, the Eastern Dakota’s crew has come to a screeching halt. We were making pretty good progress, only losing one day to weather as we completed South Dakota. We moved from Mitchell to Aberdeen on the 11th of May. We sat for a day in Aberdeen due to high winds, but quickly resumed and completed South Dakota on the 15th. Conditions improved slightly as we moved north, but despite record snow over the winter and particularly during April, South Dakota remains dry. The coteau regions of the state are pretty good and should produce ducks, but production will be minimal in the drift plain, where it is very dry with most seasonal wetlands void of water.

We moved north to Jamestown on May 15th to begin the North Dakota portion of the survey area. We got a flight in on the 16th and southern North Dakota was looking much like northern South Dakota, very dry with the exception of the coteau regions. Conditions may have improved slightly on the drift, but production will come mainly from the coteaus. Then came the halt. On the morning of the 17th we were at the end of the runway performing our preflight checks when our troubles, and delay, began. Our left magneto failed. The magneto provides the energy for the spark that runs the engine. There are two magnetos, and each fires a spark plug in each cylinder. The engine will run with only one magneto, but only one spark plug will fire in each cylinder instead of two firing in each cylinder. The redundant system is there to provide a margin of safety if a magneto fails in flight. In such an instance, the engine will continue to run, albeit with a little reduction in power, but you will be able to safely make it back to an airport. However, you do not take off if the preflight check indicates one has already failed.

So, we have been grounded since Friday morning. The down side—we lost a beautiful day of flying on Friday. The upside—it has been raining since late Friday evening, and we would not have been able to fly any day since then anyway. The new magneto is supposed to arrive this morning and we put the plane in the mechanic’s hangar early this morning for him to begin removing the bad magneto while he is waiting on the new one to show up. By the end of today the plane should be ready to go again; however, it looks like it may well be another day or two before Mother Nature cooperates and allows us to resume the survey.

Again, there is a downside and an upside. Although the survey is delayed (the down side), we are receiving some much needed rain across the Dakotas. Since last Friday night, most of the region has received nearly 5” of rain. Sheet water has been lacking up to Friday morning, but is now visible everywhere here around Jamestown. I would expect when we resume, we will see conditions improve tremendously compared to what we have seen so far. Five inches of rain, with another inch or so forecast over the next two days, should be enough to begin recharging some of the seasonal wetlands, as well as increasing the available water in the more permanent wetlands.

We have six survey days left—three here around Jamestown and then we’ll move to Minot and we have three survey days there. We have completed South Dakota and conditions were not good. We are hoping to see improvement in North Dakota, particularly in light of the recent rains. Check back soon and we will begin reporting on North Dakota as we resume.

Many wetland basins are still dry despite above average snow fall .

Many wetland basins are still dry despite above average snow fall. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Conditions are relatively dry but we are seeing them improve slightly as we move north.

Conditions are relatively dry but we are seeing them improve slightly as we move north. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Typical conditions in the Aberdeen area.

Typical conditions in the Aberdeen area. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Southern South Dakota is still extremely dry.

Southern South Dakota is still extremely dry. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Even record snow fall in April was not enough to adequately recharge wetlands.

Even record snow fall in April was not enough to adequately recharge wetlands. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

South and west region of Eastern South Dakota crew area.

South and west region of Eastern South Dakota crew area. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Typical conditions in the Mitchell area.

Typical conditions in the Mitchell area. Photo by Dave Fronczak, US FWS