Beware the wall of tumbleweeds. Seriously. Parts of the American West are facing what Reuters calls "an explosion of tumbleweeds" thanks to a perfect storm of conditions that has created a setting ripe for rolling weeds. A rangeland resources specialist calls them "opportunistic invaders that need just a little water to sprout." That's what they got in September via some unexpected rain that caused the weeds to grow unchecked by livestock, as ranchers had moved the animals out of drought-plagued regions. Then enter the windstorms, which detach the weeds, once dried, from their roots and blow them all over the place—even trapping people inside their homes.
"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," said a New Mexico man of a January storm. "We couldn't get out." A town near Colorado Springs recently battled mounts 10 feet high, and KKCO reports that they're more than just annoying: They're also highly flammable; they can ignite when in contact with heated farm equipment, and homeowners have been advised to promptly move the weeds away from their exterior walls. "It has become a public safety issue," said the president of an advocacy group in eastern Colorado who plans to lobby the federal and state governments for funding.