It’s bad enough that there are so many things to be wary of in this day and age, but based on a news report I recently saw, there is apparently a need to beware of tumbleweeds.
Yep, tumbleweeds; those round-ish dead plants that go bounding across roadways and get stuck on fence lines in many parts of the western U.S.
As surreal as it may seem, state patrol officers in Washington spent about 10 hours one night digging out vehicles that had literally been buried by a massive number of tumbleweeds on a highway not far from the Tri-Cities area on the east side of the Evergreen State. Somewhat appropriately, the event was nicknamed “Tumblegeddon,” and video clips of the scene are simply other-worldly.
The onslaught of the wayward bushes was so awesome that the state’s department of transportation even deployed snowplows to the area. But not surprisingly, the going was slow for the “tumbleplows” as they attempted to clear the shrubby mess, as the targeted material didn’t cooperate with their blades the way a layer of frozen water would.
A tumbleweed can be defined as “a structural part of the above-ground anatomy of a number of species of plants that mature, dry and detach from their roots or stems and roll due to the force of wind.” Basically, they’re like a big ol’ ball of sticks and thorns that seem designed for random, ground-based travel.
Having lived in the high desert country of eastern Washington for several years, I can vouch for the fact that it can be a wild and crazy place, and weather conditions can vary immensely and change in the blink of an eye. No exaggeration, I’ve seen eight inches of snow on the ground on an April morning, and none at all by 2 p.m. as the temperature climbed to over 80 degrees.
One time when I was driving west on Highway 26 north of the Tri-Cities, I pulled over to allow a gigantic “dust devil” to make its way from south to north over the roadway. Dust devils are like twisters and are pretty common in that region, and they’re usually fairly tame and don’t pack much punch in their rotating cones. But that dang thing was super-scary; it was like watching an EF2 of dust rumbling across the dry landscape!
I said to a friend who was with me, “no way are we getting anywhere near that thing!”
He was like, “roger that!”
But still, I never dreamed that tumbleweeds (of all things) could gather in such numbers as to actually become a problem. Heck, they’re normally just a bunch of cute signs of where you’re at, not a potentially life-threatening, seemingly singular entity that’s almost demonic in its appearance and actions.
And wow, the wind was reportedly blowing at only around 50 miles per hour when Tumblegeddon occurred. That’s a gentle breeze compared to some of the gales and gusts I recall experiencing in all four seasons in eastern Washington.
What if it was blowing at 75? Would Richland, Kennewick and Pasco have all been buried?
Even weirder is that only one of the many vehicles buried by Tumblegeddon was abandoned. That means people were inside the rest of them as officers came to the rescue! And one was a tractor-trailer big rig!
Are you kidding me?
Fortunately, nobody got hurt in the outlandish mayhem, but I can only imagine how confused and frightened people were as they sat in their cars inside a swarm of pulsating tumbleweeds. It had to like, “so the end of world comes by tumbleweeds?”
Anyway, it occurs to me that I’m not sure if my insurance policy would cover my vehicle being swallowed up by a rampaging hoard of bushy orbs determined to wreak havoc on anything and everything in their path. Maybe I should check with my agent, just in case I end up in a “beware of the tumbleweeds” zone.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.