Strong winds Saturday spread tumbleweeds in El Paso County

Roads, homes covered by record amounts of Western icon

POSTED: 02:08 AM MST Nov 17, 2013 

A bumper crop of tumbleweeds have been a nuisance in El Paso County this fall.

Tumbleweeds were blamed for blocking traffic on Interstate 25 in the construction zone near the North Academy Boulevard exit, and on the south end of town along Proby Parkway, Hancock Expressway and South Academy Boulevard.

The influx of tumbleweeds was an unusual sight within the city limits but still paled in comparison to the historic amounts that have piled up in eastern El Paso County during the past month.  People who have lived there for decades said they've never seen so many tumbleweeds.

Tumbleweeds have filled ditches, covered roads and surrounded buildings in depths of ten feet or more.  They also bear thorns that make handling them difficult.  The area south of Highway 94 and east of Ellicott seems to be most affected.

Max Kirschbaum of county public services said heavy rain in late summer and early fall fueling a growth in the thistle plants that eventually break off from their stems and roll away in the wind, dispersing seeds in the process.  Tumbleweeds, also known as, Russian thistle, were imported to the U.S. in the 1870s and is considered a noxious weed.

"We're using equipment to remove them," Kirschbaum said.  "If we don't start doing something about them before the heavy winter snows, snow removal will be more difficult.  If the ditches are full of tumbleweeds, there's nowhere for the snow to go except more of it accumulating on the road surfaces."

There's concern that windy weather and the large amount of tumbleweeds present a greater fire danger.  For that reason, Kirschbaum said, residents shouldn't burn tumbleweeds.

"Some residents are putting them in chippers or placing them on other areas of their property," he said.  "Many residents hope the wind will change direction and blow the tumbleweeds somewhere else."

Meanwhile, strong winds caused other problems Saturday -- littering streets and yards with leaves and trash, as well as blowing down tree limbs that fell on power lines and caused localized outages.

About 60 homes near the Broadmoor and 100 in Manitou Springs temporarily lost power.  Crews worked to restore service in those areas.