January 02, 2020

Highway workers make astonishing find amid epic pile of wind-blown tumbleweeds
Unfortunate drivers in Washington found themselves struggling in all new conditions while traveling on New Year's Eve. While combinations of wind, rain, snow or ice often force road closures in January, the culprit from Tuesday night and Wednesday morning was a new one: tumbleweeds.Starting around 9 p.m., local time, and extending into New Year's Day, portions of State Route 240 near West Richland, located in the south central part of the state, were shut down after strong winds blew hundreds of tumbleweeds onto the roadway. According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bill Deger, wind gusts reached nearly 50 mph in nearby areas."The strong winds began to pick up in earnest around midday Tuesday, with winds sustained between 20 and 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph at times," Deger said.Photos and video from the incident showed numerous abandoned vehicles being unearthed on Wednesday morning. Drivers were forced to flee their cars and ring in the new year under far different circumstances than they likely intended.The wall of natural debris reportedly soared to heights of 20 to 30 feet and closed the highway in both eastbound and westbound directions, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Thorsan."In the 20 years that I have worked here, I have never seen it as bad as this," Thorson told National Public Radio. "I've never seen six to eight cars, including a semi-truck, actually stopped and trapped on a highway because of tumbleweeds."The strong winds continued into Wednesday morning, only complicating the cleanup efforts for crews."The strongest winds were recorded shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, when a rain shower moved through," Deger said. "The duration of the strong winds was likely a contributing factor to the hundreds of tumbleweeds that built up and buried cars."While no injuries were reported, the tumbleweeds caused traffic nightmares and forced the state to utilize multiple snow plows and other forms of equipment to remove the weeds. Trooper Thorson told The Seattle Times that snow plows drove slowly in order to avoid crashing into potentially hidden, buried cars.Thorson told a resident on Twitter that the vehicles became stuck when drivers were forced to slow down and eventually stop due to the thistles.> Basically.... cars (and one semi truck) drive in and then slow down due to low visibility on the roadway, then eventually stop. Then you get covered in tumbleweeds because of high winds nearing 50 mph.> > -- Trooper C. Thorson (@wspd3pio) January 1, 2020
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