A plague of tumbleweeds

This infographic appeared in the March 21, 2014 issue of High Country News

Tumbleweeds first engulfed J.D. Wright’s house in southeastern Colorado Nov. 17. Wind gusted up and there they were, piled so deep over doors and windows that Wright’s grandson had to dig him and his wife out with a front-end loader. “We had some bad weeds in the ’50s and ’70s (droughts),” Wright says, “but nothing like this.”

The skeletal orbs, also known as Russian thistle, aren’t newcomers; they wandered over from Eurasia in the 19th century. But Western drought has invigorated them as farmers fallow fields, ranchers stop grazing cattle that eat weed shoots, and native perennials wither. With so much bare soil, a burst of moisture last fall sparked a tumbleweed explosion. Now, packs of them scythe across the prairie, enthusiastically scattering seed. Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico have reported miles of blocked roads and weed mountains stacked behind fences and in ditches. A January windstorm buried a three-quarter-mile-by-half-mile section of Clovis, N.M., rooftop-to-rooftop in 435 tons of prickly mayhem.

The accumulation is more than inconvenient; it blocks emergency vehicles and boosts fire danger. But how the heck do you overcome a tumbleweed takeover of sci-fi proportions? More…

Also, check out the related web exclusive story for more details about Crowley County’s tumbleweed troubles.