While you were sleeping off your first hangover of the year, Washington State transportation workers were sifting through heaps of tumbleweeds.
State Route 250 in eastern Washington briefly shut down this week after a massive pile of wind-blown tumbleweeds flooded the roadway, trapping cars and trucks in mounds of diaspores.
Images shared by the state Department of Transportation on Wednesday are equally terrifying and hilarious: To someone who’s never lived in the western United States, this scene is unimaginable.
“Our crews are continuing to keep watch on SR 240 and the tumbleweed impacts there,” the WSDOT said. “Please take care if you choose to travel through this area as winds continue to move the tumbleweeds around.”
State Patrol District 3 Public Information Officer Chris Thorson tweeted a video of two men tossing tumbles aside to uncover a buried vehicle.
“We have confirmed no one is in this car, but we are trying to access the license plate to get ahold of the owner this morning,” he said.
What looks like a low-budget horror/western film, however, is a very real problem for folks in the U.S.
Salsola ryanii—a hybrid species of giant tumbleweed once expected to go extinct—is alive and well, and growing.
According to a recent study from the University of California Riverside, the strain develops more “vigorously” than its parent plants, thanks to a double set of their chromosomes.
Despite its frequent use as a symbol of humor, tumbleweed is no joke.
More resolute than its progenitors—which are invasive in 48 states—Salsola ryanii’s range is likely to continue spreading. Climate change could also increase its territory takeover.