Speed Reads

Nature's Nightmares

Tumbleweeds are taking over a very dry West

David McNew/Getty Images

A mixture of drought and high winds has caused tumbleweeds to wreak havoc in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas this year. The pesky brush is blocking roadways, sticking to buildings, and even trapping people inside of their homes. That's what happened in January to 80-year-old Wilford Ransom and his wife, Mary. "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 Clovis, N.M., resident tells Reuters. "We couldn’t get out."

What's with the sudden invasion? Due to dry conditions, many ranchers are either selling off or moving their cattle to more fertile areas. Not only are the cows no longer there to graze on the young plants — technically, Russian thistle, a 19th century import — but the tumbleweeds now have larger swathes of land to grow on. "They are opportunistic invaders that need just a little water to sprout," says Ben Berlinger of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.