Eighteen snowstorms in 27 days hit the Rocky Mountain and upper Great Plains states during December 1948 and January 1949, dropping temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero, blocking roads and railways, and covering ranges and ranches with so much snow that hundreds of thousands of sheep and cattle were threatened with starvation.
The 2151st Rescue Unit at Lowry AFB, Colorado, began to airdrop food and medicine to stranded travelers and isolated residents on January 3. For the next 10 days, the unit flew C–47, C–82, L–5, and H–5 aircraft over snow-covered portions of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. For example, on January 4, a 2151st Rescue Unit C–47 delivered 115 blankets and 30 cases of C rations to 482 people stranded at Rockport, Colorado. The next day, the unit airdropped food to passengers stranded in trains at Hillsdale and Egbort, Wyoming, and at Dix, Nebraska.
A 2151st Rescue Unit C–82 airlifted two snow-terrain vehicles known as weasels from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on January 7 to help deliver emergency supplies. The next day, a C–47 aircraft dropped insulin and penicillin to blizzard-bound medical personnel at Harrison, Nebraska.
On January 11, despite the 2151st Rescue Unitit’s efforts to answer emergency requests for assistance from local and state government agencies, Governor Val Peterson of Nebraska phoned Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, commander of SAC at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, to request additional emergency assistance. This request was relayed to the Continental Air Command (CONAC), which contacted the Tenth Air Force’s Maj. Gen. Harry A. Johnson at Brooks AFB, Texas. General Johnson called a Tenth Air Force domestic emergency relief team into action under Lt. Col. Joe E. McNay, who set up operations at Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 12.
Working with the Fifth Army, the Tenth Air Force team airdropped food, medicine, and livestock feed until January 16, when improved weather eliminated the need for further relief flights. But more snowstorms in the following days forced Governor Peterson to ask for a renewal of the humanitarian flights, which resumed on January 24. The Tenth Air Force coordinated Air Force aerial relief missions in Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, in an operation called Hayride.
Meanwhile, on January 24, the Fourth Air Force at Hamilton AFB, California, had begun to send cargo aircraft to Nevada to airdrop livestock feed to starving herds. The Fourth Air Force sent 62d Troop Carrier Group C–82s from McChord AFB, Washington, to a naval airfield at Fallon, Nevada, where they flew with the Ninth Air Force’s 316th Troop Carrier Group to deliver food and provide medical care to isolated blizzard victims and to airdrop bales of hay and livestock feed to starving cattle and sheep.
Thirty C–82 and 12 C–47 cargo aircraft delivered over 2,500 tons of emergency supplies in eastern Nevada and western Utah in 33 days, flying more than 660 sorties. Many of the airplanes shuttled between Fallon and Ely, Nevada, carrying local ranchers who directed the airdrop of hay to the starving herds. Meanwhile, the Tenth Air Force had continued airlift operations farther east, and the domestic emergency relief team headquarters moved from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Lowry AFB, Colorado, on January 26.
On January 29, because of the large number of snow-blocked railroads and highways, President Truman declared the snow-crippled western states a disaster area and authorized further federal assistance. A “Disaster Force Snowbound” was established in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 3 with combined Army and Air Force staffs.
While the Fifth Army coordinated disaster relief missions, authorizing airlift only when ground supply routes were impassable, a provisional Air Division Hayride directed air activities. The Tenth Air Force domestic emergency relief team continued to operate, but moved its headquarters back to Nebraska from Lowry AFB, this time to Omaha.
Often during February, Air Division Hayride and Disaster Force Snowbound canceled livestock feeding missions to save human lives. For example, on February 9, hundreds of people were stranded on snowbound trains west of Rawlins and in the areas of Hanna, Rock River, and Green River in Wyoming. The Tenth Air Force dropped food, blankets, and medicine to the isolated passengers until the trains could move again.
Air relief operations ended on February 26 in Nevada and on March 15 in Nebraska. The Tenth Air Force flew over 2,100 tons of hay, rations, clothing, blankets, milk, coal, and emergency equipment to stricken areas in five states aboard 143 aircraft between January 12 and March 15. Total Hayride missions involved more than 200 Air Force planes delivering over 4,700 tons of supplies in eight states. These missions were performed as the massive Berlin Airlift was underway in Europe (see Operation Vittles, Chapter 3, June 1948–September 1949).