Drought in the Western United States has led to a problem that many did not see coming - until they were buried under piles of the Russian Thistle, a hardy, large spiny weed otherwise known in this country as the tumbleweed. And the drought conditions in Texas and other parts of the west, along with short periods of intense rain, led to a proliferation of these supposedly harmless, if annoying plants. Except that they aren't - harmless that is:
Rolling clusters of the tumbleweed have created havoc in the drought-stricken areas of the West.
In late January, an invasion of tumbleweeds rolled into Clovis, New Mexico, trapping Wilford Ransom, 80, and his wife, Mary, in their home.
"I looked out the window to see why it got so dark all of a sudden, and they were over 12-feet high, blocking my front and back doors," the retiree said. "We couldn't get out." [...]
In Crowley County, Colorado, tumbleweeds have blocked roads, making it difficult for emergency vehicles to reach certain areas, said Cathy Garcia, president of Action 22, an advocacy group made up of government and business leaders in the eastern part of the state.
Oh, and by the way, they create a fire hazard, since they make excellent kindling for brush fires, whether caused by lightning strikes, hikers and campers or merely idiot pyromaniacs. They can ignite also when they come into contact with "heated farm equipment." And they are currently clogging irrigation ditches, a critical means of transferring water for agricultural uses.
In non-drought periods, cattle usually keep the growth of this invasive species at bay. Unfortunately, ranchers have been removing their cattle from ranges where they would normally graze, because the drought has killed off much of the natural fodder that cattle feed upon. In their absence, just a little rain can create an explosion of tumbleweeds. They don;t need much water to grow, as compared to many native species.
Not surprisingly, many local officials in communities out west are looking for federal and state government funding to combat the problem.
The meeting was called by Action 22, a conglomerate of the rural Southern Colorado counties, and was led by Tobe Allumbaugh, the chairman of the Crowley County Board of Commissioners.
Allumbaugh brought photos of the work being done in Crowley County as crews try to grind and destroy towering piles of tumbleweeds that block roads, cover fences and stack as high as the rooftops of some houses.
On Tuesday, the group informally decided to form a coalition through Action 22 to focus on possible solutions to the problem, while lobbying county commissioners to declare a state of emergency to help get money and resources to the area to clear up the weeds.
“This is an emergency,” said Alf Randall, director of the road and bridge department of Pueblo County. “We’ve been keeping the roads open and kind of under control but we’re not making any headway. When we get into the summer, we’re going to go from emergency to disaster when that burns.”
But just remember what's really important. Climate change, especially human caused climate change, has nothing whatsoever to do with these terrible droughts, despite what the National Center for Atmospheric Research and many scientists who have studied the issue may claim.
Other climate scientists, acknowledging the role of these weather patterns and natural variability, say climate change exacerbated the 2012 drought partly by helping to keep the jet stream north.
"All these three factors combine to contribute to the dry conditions in Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest," says Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded laboratory. Despite year-to-year fluctuations in these areas, he says, "You have this long-term trend toward dryness."
Global warming, by raising temperatures, made the 2011 Texas drought "distinctly more probable" than would have occurred 40 to 50 years ago, according to a study led by David Rupp and Philip Mote of Oregon State University.
As a great philosopher (me) once said, "Tumbleweeds happen." If you don't like them, or the lack of adequate water resources needed to sustain communities out West, you can always just move. Or pray for rain. Am I right?