SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A perfect storm of sorts created a deadly dust storm in central Illinois, killing seven and injuring dozens in a fiery pileup on I-55.
"This all comes down to just bad luck, an overlap of some unfavorable weather conditions," said Andrew Pritchard, senior meteorologist at Nutrien AG Solutions.
He noted that parts of central Illinois have seen dry conditions over the last two to three weeks. Additionally, strong winds with sustained wind speeds of 20 to 25 mph and gusts of 40 to 45 mph have swept through the area.
Alone, these two conditions may already be enough to kick up dust. A third factor, however, exacerbated the situation.
Because of the dry conditions, Illinois farmers have been able to take advantage of the dry soil and begin spring planting. They brought out their heavy machinery and started working in the fields, which loosened the soil.
The high winds then kicked up clouds of dust from the dry soil, greatly decreasing visibility nearby.
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According to Pritchard, the wind blew in a direction that pushed the dust clouds directly across I-55, a high-traffic interstate. The low visibility on the busy roadway led to more than 70 vehicles crashing.
For drivers experiencing near-zero visibility during a dust storm, Pritchard recommends they pull over.
"Maybe that means waiting for a little while, but that’s certainly better than coming up on something that’s hidden in the dust, and you can’t quite hit the brakes in time for, which is what we were seeing a lot of yesterday, unfortunately," he said.