By Maria Cramer
In ghost towns and gunslinger movies, they drift in ones or twos, cast wherever the wind takes them.
Along a long stretch of road in Washington State, the tumbleweeds took over instead: more like monsters out of science fiction than lonely icons of the American West.
On New Year’s Eve, hundreds of them tumbled over and onto a highway, State Route 240, covering a stretch three football fields long. In some places they piled up 30 feet high, trapping cars and trucks for hours.
By the end of the night, the authorities were calling it “Tumblegeddon.”
“The accumulation was beyond belief,” said Trooper Chris Thorson of the Washington State Patrol, which began receiving 911 calls from stranded drivers around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. “I’ve worked here in southeastern Washington State for over 20 years. We always experience high winds and tumbleweeds rolling down the road, but I’ve never seen an accumulation like this before.”
The highway is in a flat, wide-open area close to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is known as one of the sites of the Manhattan Project and where plutonium was produced to help build the atom bomb.
“Some people are calling them nuclear tumbleweeds,” Mr. Thorson said.
The reality is the region, which is close to the Columbia River and has a desert climate, is known for tumbleweeds and whipping dust, said David Mosley, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Transportation.