One of the great joys here on the prairie in the late fall is tumbleweed season. This can last for months and is dependent on so many factors. Your best option of seeing what I call the great tumbleweed migration is to drive across the state of Kansas and into Eastern Colorado - sure western Nebraska and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas would be good places as well, although I have never been south of I-70 to verify this.
What is tumbleweed season you ask? (did you ask me yet?) Well let me tell you a little story of acrobatics, strength in numbers, and unfortunately death and destruction.
Tumbleweeds are dried up pig and fire weeds that were allowed to prosper in the ditches, along fence lines and field edges. These weeds, just like everything else in the fall, go into their dormant state, dry up and drop their seeds all around. Once the weeds are dried completely it takes one good gust of wind to break them at ground level and send them out into the wild frontier to spread their seeds and play games like Red Rover and Chicken.
The Great Tumbleweed MigrationIt was a windy day (out of the south) in November as I drove west on I-70 to go visit my daughter and get my hair cut. Suddenly, out of the field on the south side of the road came this 2 foot by 3 foot cartwheeling monster of a tumbleweed across the interstate, daring me into a game of Chicken. I thought to myself, must be the migration, wonder where this one is going? I watched the tumbleweed cross all four lanes of the interstate (going right in front of my car), with the grace and ease of a professional acrobat. Then as quick as it was there on the highway with me it was gone, down into the ditch and up and over the fence along the edge of a stubble field. The tumbleweed popped up and over the fence as if it suddenly was in a pole vault competition, cleared the fence and tumbled on through the stubble field. My guess is this is another effective way they scatter their seeds for next years group of weeds hoping to make it to migration season.
There were lots of other tumbleweeds that did not make the vault over the fence and were tangled in the fence, bringing it to life as a wall of tumbleweeds. They looked like they were daring the others to play nature's game of Red Rover. Once caught in the web of weeds at the fence row, it takes a lot of wind from the opposite direction to dislodge the weeds and set them free to tumble and play once again.
As I drove down the interstate I saw a tumbleweed that decided to take a ride on the front of a semi-truck. There it was in the grill of the truck, hanging on for dear life. I could almost hear it squeal with glee as it traveled down the interstate at speeds in excess of 70 mph.
Other tumbleweeds were not so lucky. They play chicken with the vehicles on the road and just as predicted they lose. Some try to roll under the car or truck, hoping to avoid the wheels but more often than naught they meet their untimely demise and are busted into little bits of dried up weed scattered all over the highway.
Some rules of the road during tumbleweed season:
1. If you find yourself in a game of chicken with a tumbleweed - DO NOT SWERVE.
2. Watch for tumbleweeds. If you know what direction the wind is blowing, you can spot them sooner and avoid running them over as they cross the road.
3. If you want to run them over (truthfully we won't mind a bit) then please do so safely. Don't swerve, don't slam on your breaks, just plow right through.
On a final note, if you happen to be traveling with the wind, check the ditch next to you. There may be a playful tumbleweed racing you down the highway but watch out, they have been known to suddenly change course and come up on the highway catching a driver off guard. Just follow the rules above and you will be fine.
Be mindful that they are devious weeds, hard to pull up and if given the chance to scratch your car they will. If you happen to run one over, please take a few minutes the next time you stop for gas or a snack to check your underside and grill for chunks left behind as that can be a hazard to your car.