CHICAGO – Hurricane-force winds sent walls of dust to cities and rural towns in the upper Midwest on Thursday evening, causing widespread property damage and killing at least two people.
According to meteorologists and soil experts, winds of up to 105 miles per hour reach from Kansas to Wisconsin, pushing farmland overhead waves across the horizon and plunging communities into darkness.
Farmers said the wall of dust evoked images of a 1930s Dust Bowl, in which winds topple storage buildings on tractors and overturn cars on highways.
According to the National Weather Service, one person died after a tree fell in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A second man reportedly died in Minnesota after a grain bin fell on a car, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“The damage is widespread, but it could have been much worse,” said Todd Hetkamp, a meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He said parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota suffered the most.
As the winds subsided, a gritty layer of black dirt covered wind turbine blades and clogged drainage ditches, farmers said, adding that the rich top soil, vital to growing crops, blew away some fields.
Dry conditions in the Great Plains and Midwest, along with traditional agricultural practices such as plowing the soil, set the stage for a massive dust storm, according to Joanna Pope, a Nebraska state public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Is.
“The best defense for this type of stuff is to establish cover crops and soil-saving practices like no-till,” she said.
“The soil that is exposed dries out really fast, and strong winds blow it away. That’s the livelihood of the people, walking the way. It’s awful.”
The storm could add to the conflict as farmers face pressure to ramp up production amid fears of delayed sowing, rising costs and record-high food prices and shortages.
In central Nebraska, poor irrigation systems are used in high winds to offset dry conditions for recently sown crops. Farmer Kevin Fulton said repairing expensive systems could take weeks.
Farmer Randy Loomis was planting corn near Ayrshire, Iowa, when a storm dumped his neighbor’s grain bin in his yard.
He said his wife and daughter left their car to stand against the wind in a nearby ditch after leaving dinner.
“That big dust cloud was three football fields wide,” said 62-year-old Loomis. “It was just black. … It had sucked up all the black dirt.”