Tumbleweed Storm Threatens Drought-Stricken Colorado

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Tumbleweeds are on the roll, literally, where in the plains of Colorado, they’re blocking rural roads and irrigation canals and briefly barricading homes and even an elementary school, according the Associated Press.

It’s all brought on by “moderate to exceptional” drought conditions, the classification according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. According to that organization, 61 percent of the state is in some level of classification concerning drought conditions. Of that 61 percent, eight percent is in “severe” drought conditions, four percent “extreme,” and one-and-a-half percent in “exceptional” drought conditions.

Firefighters even had to cut through a path of tumbleweeds to free a pregnant woman from her house, who feared she might go into labor.

Tumbleweeds, a classic staple of Western films and symbol of a desolate landscape, were first introduced to the country by Ukranian farmers. Its real name is the Russian thistle and it grows in dry fields, on plains, and by the side of roads, usually in grain-growing areas. At its full height, it reaches three feet and at maturity it breaks off at the base, tumbling in the wind, scattering seeds to give rise to more tumbleweeds.

A price tag comes with them as well.

Crowley County in southern Colorado has spent $108,000 since November clearing roads and bridges of tumbleweeds. That’s more than a third of its annual budget, according to the Associated Press.

The county that includes Colorado Springs, El Paso County, has spent $209,000.

“Try pushing them with heavy equipment and they just roll on you, fly over the top,” Alf Randall, the county's acting public works director, told the Associated Press. “The frustrating part is once you get the first wave beat down, packed down and out of the road, the wind comes up and here comes the next batch.”

Given the cost, officials have tried to come up with alternative methods of dealing with the tumbleweeds, including snow-blowers and rotary attachments on tractors.

More work is in store, and for Tobe Allumbaugh, County Commission Chairman, the idea that tumbleweeds are harmless bits of Western lore is not amusing in the least.

"What we have is not funny," he said.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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