The wind-hammered tumbleweeds have covered homes, barns and machinery. They’ve closed miles of roads and highways, choked streams and fence lines, and evoked memories of the catastrophic Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“They have created havoc on the plains of Eastern Colorado,” said Tobe Allumbaugh, chairman of the Crowley County Commission, of the thorn-laced flying bushes. “After three years of drought, we got moisture in the latter part of August. There was no vegetation to compete with the Russian thistle. They popped out and they were everywhere. We got more rain in September and it was like throwing fuel on the fire.
"By November they began to roll and tumble," Allumbaugh said.
More recently, the Crowley crews have been attacking the amassed tumbleweeds with a machine that looks like a modified combine. Front rotary blades chew through the brambles and spit the remains through an exhaust hose like so much sawdust. Allumbaugh described the contraption as “angry.”
Tumble weeds also pose a significant fire danger, particularly when piled against structures. A thrown cigarette, any sort of spark or even heat from a catalytic converter could start a major fire. “They burn like a dry Christmas tree on steroids,” Allumbaugh said.
Many of the impacted counties, state officials, political representatives and leaders of Action 22, the advocacy organization which represents counties in the southeast quadrant of the state, are meeting in Pueblo on March 18th to strategize mitigation efforts. Allumbaugh is worried about spring storms which can bring lightning and 60 miles per hour winds.
“We could be right back where we’ve been. Our big problem is just trying to keep the roads open.”