“Tumbleggedon” visits Washington state outback

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

“Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go, but I’ll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumblin’ tumbleweeds.”


—Sons of the Pioneers

Ah, the bucolic West. Longhorn skulls, cowboys, tumblin’ tumbleweeds. Makes you want to jump in the old motorhome and head out on the back highways and appreciate the view.

Washington’s state route 240 west of the city of Richland is bucolic backcountry, and drivers there got more than their fill of tumblin’ tumbleweeds last Tuesday when thousands of the giant-size “Western motif” plants broke loose and rolled out on the highway. The wind drove the rolling weeds along the pavement, eventually collecting, en-masse, in a portion of the highway that cuts through some hills.

Photo: Washington State Trooper C. Thorson

Winter darkness had already descended on the countryside, so visibility wasn’t all that great. Add to that, tumbleweeds aren’t decked out in fluorescent colors, so one could well imagine they were nigh-unto invisible until – until – your car, truck or motorhome ran smack into the massive roadblock that they created. Emergency dispatch operators began to get calls from trapped and frantic motorists whose vehicles were surrounded, nay, buried by stacks of the migrant nuisances, piled up has high as 30 feet. A two-mile section of the highway was bottled up with Salsola kali (or their kin) offspring.

What’s to be done? Call in the snowplows! Indeed, moving slowly ahead at the safe speed of five miles per hour (plow drivers didn’t want to clobber any cars buried in the mess), crews were eventually able to dig out stranded drivers and carloads of families. A total of 20 folks were found – although one car was empty, apparently abandoned by its occupants. Just where they ended up is the stuff of future legends about the day of “Tumblegeddon.”

The road was closed for 10 hours while crews uncovered it. But it’s not over yet. There were enough tumbleweeds to fill 2,754 Olympic-size swimming pools, and most have been pushed off to the side of the road. Eventually the local fire company will do a “controlled burn” to dismiss the roadside ruiners. Let’s hope the burn will be more controlled than the weeds themselves.

##RVT929

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Gray

OMG is RIGHT! Those things burn like gasoline, once ignited. It has to be seen to really appreciate how they flare up and burn in a flash. I’d be terrified to be trapped in a pile of them.

Years ago I worked for a western sugarbeet corporation. A major headache for beet growers was a virus-carrying insect called the sugarbeet leafhopper, which at one time nearly destroyed the US industry. The Bureau of Land Management was hugely committed to reclaiming public land for “livestock grazing improvements.” They’d contract sagebrush removal to make room for huge plantings of crested wheatgrass. More often than not, the planting would fail, and vast tracts of Russian Thistle (which resembles tumbleweed) would invade and take over. It’s a host plant for — yeh, you guessed right: the sugarbeet leafhopper. Growers would bitterly complain that the US Bureau of Land Management was creating a threat to their crops; the BLM would steadfastly refuse to go in and replant to eliminate the Russian thistle. After all, it would be admitting a huge failure, which NO BLM area manager would do at the risk of ending their career.

(The domestic sugarbeet industry was saved when crop scientists developed a virus-resistant strain. Then Congress managed to deliver a crippling blow by opening the sugar market up to cheap overseas imports from countries with no safety, labor, or evironmental standards. Typical.)

DAVE TELENKO

OMG: Ya know those tumbleweed burn faster than Christmas trees. We used to throw them on our controlled camp fire when we were in the desert! If one of those had caught on fire from a spark they all would have gone up & would have done grave damage. Those people were very fortunate that didn’t happen.
Snoopy

Larry H Lee

Keep in mind that tumbleweeds did not exist in the US until “accidentally” imported from Russia in some agricultural seed.