Oklahoma Dust Storm Causes Pile-up on Major Interstate

Interstate 35 shut down after massive storm causes a blackout

 

 
 
 

JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS, Associated Press | | Friday, October 19, 2012

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Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

Nearly three dozen vehicles involved in crash.
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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate Thursday, forcing police to shut down part of the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions.

In a scene reminiscent of the Dust Bowl days, choking dust suspended on strong wind gusts shrouded Interstate 35, which links Dallas and Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Mo. Video from television station helicopters showed the four-lane highway virtually disappearing into billowing dust on the harsh landscape near Blackwell, plus dozens of vehicles scattered in the median and on the shoulders.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Jodi Palmer, a dispatcher with the Kay County Sheriff's Office. "In this area alone, the dirt is blowing because we've been in a drought. I think from the drought everything's so dry and the wind is high."

The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities.

State transportation workers were called into to close the highway between U.S. 60 and Oklahoma 11, an 8-mile stretch of the cross-country roadway.

"We have very high winds and blowing dust causing a near blackout condition," Capt. James West of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Thursday afternoon. He said visibility was less than 10 feet.

The stretch of closed roadway reopened Thursday evening after crews cleaned up debris and waited for winds to die down, Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said.

The area is just south of the Kansas state line in far northern Oklahoma. Interstate 35 runs from the Mexican border in south Texas to Duluth, Minn.

A red flag fire warning was in place for parts of northern Oklahoma on Thursday, as was a blowing dust advisory.

The National Weather Service forecast for the area said winds would subside to 20 mph or lower overnight but that gusts as high as 28 mph could continue. Calm winds were expected by Friday night.

The area has suffered through an extended drought and many farmers had recently loosened the soil while preparing for the winter wheat season.

"You have the perfect combination of extended drought in that area ... and we have the extremely strong winds," said Gary McManus, the Oklahoma associate state climatologist.

"Also, the timing is bad because a lot of those farm fields are bare. The soil is so dry, it's like powder. Basically what you have is a whole bunch of topsoil waiting for the wind to blow it away. It's no different from the 1930s than it is now."

Steve Austin, a Kay County commissioner, said visibility was terrible.

"It looked like a huge fog was over the city of Ponca City," he said. "We've had dust storms before, but I don't remember anything of this magnitude in years."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

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Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

Rescue personnel from the Tonkawa Fire Department extricate a woman pinned in a vehicle after it was involved in an accident on Interstate 35 near Blackwell, Okla., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident, forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions. The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities. (AP Photo/The Ponca City News, Rolf Clements)


Gallery 1

Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

The rear of a car sits on top of another following a crash on Interstate 35 on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, near Blackwell, Okla. A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident, forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions. The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities. (AP Photo/The Ponca City News, Rolf Clements)


Gallery 1

Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

Rescue personnel from the Tonkawa Fire Department extricate a woman pinned in vehicle after it was involved in an accident on Interstate 35 near Blackwell, Okla., Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident, forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions. The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities. (AP Photo/The Ponca City News, Rolf Clements)


Gallery 1

Oklahoma Dust Storm Pile-Up

Dust obscures the Wichita skyline as strong winds whipped through south-central Kansas, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 in Wichita, Kan. I-35 near the Oklahoma board was closed due to the dust and numerous accidents. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Bo Rader)



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