Is Deadly Dust Storm a Climate Indicator?

May 3, 2023


The National Weather Service office in Springfield, Illinois, issued a blowing-dust warning Monday for the first time ever after a blinding dust storm sprang up south of Springfield, Illinois, causing a deadly highway pileup. It may not be the last such warning the office issues.

The crashes killed at least 7 people and injured dozens Monday morning. The highway didn’t open again until Tuesday.

The horrific crashes involved 40 to 60 passenger cars and multiple tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire. At least 30 people were taken to hospitals with injuries, and Montgomery County authorities said 10 helicopters were called to the scene in addition to a hazardous materials team to suppress fires.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that devastated croplands across the prairie states. It was caused by several factors, including a prolonged drought and newly opened agricultural lands that had never before been put to the plow.

The intensive plowing and tilling of land unsuited to that type of agriculture and the destruction it caused was an alarm for farmers and led the Department of Agriculture to set up the Soil Conservation Service, said Rob Myers, a professor of agriculture at the University of Missouri.

Multiple factors caused the Dust Bowl, Pu said. Economic factors also worsened the problem. Severe drops in crop prices caused farmers to abandon their farms, leaving bare soil behind.

There was no irrigation, so there were many abandoned fields without any vegetation protection, which made it susceptible to wind erosion,” she said.

To fight the dust storms that blew millions of tons of topsoil from fields, farmers learned dryland growing techniques and planted thousands of miles of trees as windbreaks, which helped stop the shifting of soil.

“I grew up on a farm roughly 30 miles from where the accident happened in Illinois,” Myers said. “We had windbreaks planted on average every half mile. They were osage orange trees that were planted in the 1930s.”

Unfortunately, agricultural practices espoused by then-Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz in 1973 calling upon American farmers to plant “fencerow to fencerow” meant most of them were bulldozed out. Myers’ family removed theirs in the 1980s.

That’s beginning to change. Today farmers are once again conservation-minded and taking the threat of climate shifts seriously, Myers said. Modern methods include using no-till crops to avoid breaking up the soilplanting cover crops to hold in moisture, and once again planting windbreaks.

“If there’s any good news in this terrible story, it’s that there’s more funding than ever before from both the government and the private sector to help farmers try out and adopt additional conservation measures.”

Below, “Something we have not experienced locally.”


One Response to “Is Deadly Dust Storm a Climate Indicator?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    “we are at very real risk of pushing ourselves outside of the comfortable climatic conditions which allowed humans to expand, farm, build cities and create.


    We’re in a race, and the stakes are as high as they could possibly be – ensuring a liveable climate for our children and for nature.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: