Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona

Want to control dust storms? Go natural

Sacred Datura grows in the wild. (Image Credit: Pamela Powers Hannley)

Is Pinal County becoming the new dust bowl? This past summer dry conditions, high winds, and a destroyed ecosystem created a series of perfect storms.

Dust storms of Biblical proportions formed in Pinal County’s scraped-clean, barren acreage, blew into Phoenix, and made national headlines when multiple haboobs engulfed millions of Phoenicians.

Subsequent dust storms created fatal driving conditions along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix. A series of dust storms caused multiple pileups on one October day– leaving one person dead, 15 injured, and more than 16 vehicles destroyed.

What is the state’s answer to this dangerous situation? Two days after that horrific October day on I-10, state officials shrugged their shoulders and blamed motorists for the accidents. From the Arizona Daily Star

State officials say that motorists – not a lack of safeguards – are to blame for dust-related crashes such as the multi-vehicle wrecks on Interstate 10 on Tuesday.

And there are no plans for state agencies to collaborate on strategies to reduce collisions related to dust storms.
“Dust storms don’t kill people; highways don’t kill people. Drivers kill people,” said Bart Graves, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. “They panic and they do the wrong thing and something bad happens…” [Note that state officials are using the same argument that they use to justify taking no action on gun control.]

In cases of unpredictable dust storms, Graves said, “there is virtually no way we can do that.”

Aloe vera grows wild and like datura is a plant that pollinators love. (Image credit: Pamela Powers Hannley)

The state is being lazy on the issue of dust storms, and I was glad to see Tucsonans calling them out in today’s Arizona Daily Star story about dust storms and hazardous driving on I-10.

Unfortunately, the article primarily focused on high-tech methods to predict dust storms and not on ways to prevent them.

I have lived in Arizona long enough to remember when there used to be vegetation along I-10. Leaving Tucson on the way to Phoenix, mature palo verde and mesquite trees lined either side of the freeway and filled the median for miles. This green belt was so beautiful– especially after a desert rain when the palo verdes were in bloom. Beyond the trees on either side was other desert vegetation like creosote and jojoba bushes, cacti, and yucca. On the way to Wilcox, mature ocotillo and wild flowers like Mexican sunflowers and sacred datura filled the median. In the spring, the view toward the Dragoons was a riot of color with miles of blooming fire-red ocotillos mixed with the yellow and white wild flowers. Along the sides of the freeway were more wild flowers, desert shrubs, cacti, and other native plants.

These hardy desert trees, shrubs, and wild flowers not only decorated the freeway and made the drive more pleasant; their roots held the soil.

Cacti and agaves will grow and multiply just about anywhere. (Image Credit: Pamela Powers Hannley)

I never knew why the plants and trees in the median were removed. One day the trees going west and the ocotillos going east were just gone. All that was left was dirt, rocks, scrub grass, and maybe an occasional wild flower.

Overgrazing, over cultivation, and over zealous (but uncompleted) development destroyed the ecosystem along the freeway. Vast stretches of dirt line I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. It’s no wonder haboobs are whipped up and no wonder that Pinal County has air quality problems.

In addition to– or instead of– high-tech gadgetry to predict dust storms, Arizona should mount a freeway planting program. (After all, as the Star article points out, what are you going to do after you predict a major dust storm? Shut down the freeway? Halt commerce on the interstate because a computer model tells you to?) The median and the easement along the freeway should be replanted with desert trees, shrubs, and wild flowers. Other states have vegetation along their stretches of the interstate highways. We have dirt and, therefore, we have dust storms. Along I-10, on the way to Palm Springs, mature salt cedars line the freeway for miles and provide a buffer between the dry desert and drivers.

In addition to a state-sponsored replanting program, landowners who allow their acreage to sit uncultivated or undeveloped should be fined. They are creating a public health and public safety problems for the residents of Arizona; they should pay for remediation.

Another step the state can take is to make commuting between Tucson and Phoenix safer is to move forward on the I-10 corridor commuter train. Not safe to drive? Take the train.

Arizona’s state government should stop shirking its duty to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry… and start planting.

11 comments on “Want to control dust storms? Go natural

  1. Tyrone Slothrop
    December 17, 2011

    Ms. Hannley:
    I read your appeal with more than passing interest since one of my friends was run over and killed near Casa Grande some years ago during a dust storm.
    Unfortunately, your replanting plan is an epic fail in regard to alleviating driver deaths from dust storms on AZ highways. Such storms have been  taking place for as long as we have records. The material comes from the vast desert plains of the SouthWest that surround our highways. If you can’t keep the dust out of a tightly sealed house (as most Phoenicians know) what chance do you have with a few trees and bushes?  This material will not, repeat NOT be  “filtered out” by a thin border of vegetation of any sort. Would your plan make the highways more esthetic? Possibly; but there may be other factors that need to be taken into account – i.e. Would the AZDOT be legally liable for drivers deaths caused by hitting an immovable object? Like maybe a tree?? You needed to do a lot more homework before offering your opinion in a public venue.
    BTW: Conflating dust control with gun control just makes you look like a typical air-head. 


  2. Pamela Powers Hannley
    December 17, 2011

    ADOT puts concrete barriers on the freeway all the time. Those are just as deadly to careless drivers as trees. Crossing the bare median and driving into oncoming traffic is also deadly. Hitting a tree is better than an approaching semi.

    Re: gun control and dust storms… the state is using the same argument for their inaction. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” “Dust storms don’t kill people. Drivers kill people.” 


  3. The Sonoran
    December 17, 2011

    You go Pamela! Now that you mention it, I too remember all of that greenery lining the median. You’re right it was beautiful and it did make to long drive between Tucson and Phoenix more enjoyable. Actually, they weren’t the biggest of trees or scrub, not immovable, and I would tend to think they would help reduce incidents of vehicles crossing the median. It’s too bad, but who knows why they were removed? Maybe they’re making way for the future train tracks. 😉


  4. Jim Bodkins
    December 17, 2011

    Pamela is correct. But I have something – else – to say on this subject. Pardon me, but DOT, local news weather specialists and local police are idiots. Why? What do they tell you? If you cant see – pull off the roadway, turn off your vehicle and keep your foot off the brake. Morons, morons, morons. (I just cant stand this) As someone that has lived permanently in this are since 1966, I can tell you that we have just amazing visibility. Amazing. The dust in question occurs in a narrow band in specific areas. I have driven I10 many many many times and can say with confidence that in most cases this is an issue when visibility isnt really the critical issue. Visibility meaning that you can normally see about 10 miles – or on low visibility days its around a mile. Meaning that you can SEE the dust for between one and ten miles well in front of you. So here is my question – why in gods name do people drive into it? If you cant see through it from a distance dont drive into it. If you do you may very well die. In my opinion, DOT and the rest should give this advice. If you see blowing dust (while you have visibility) pull over safely to the side of the road and patiently wait until it passes. You will be stationary at the side of the road in a visible area and no-one will hit you because you will be very visible – with the dust some distance (quarter to maybe a mile) down the road. I have never heard an authority – ever – suggest that it is a bad idea to drive into that dust. I think they are morons for not doing so. And it would be easy to do. Lie. If you tell people they will die if they drive in – they will drive in anyway. If you tell them that the finish on their nice car will be damaged – which may not be true – they may stay out. Stay out of the dust – until it passes – and stay alive.


    • songlady
      December 18, 2011

      I agree with you 100%, Jim.  The desert has a natural crust that keeps dust down unless its disturbed. All that scraping vegetation off disturbs it. And,  you’re right about not driving into dust or heavy fog. Pull off somewhere until it clears up.  We lived both on the Washington coast and in eastern Colorado so we’ve experienced both.  Fog tends to go on and on so you can’t always wait but you need to think about what you might not be able to see and drive accordingly.  


  5. Jim Bodkins
    December 17, 2011

    I didnt format my comments like that. The blog software just stinks.

    It is now unreadable. Sorry


  6. Jim Bodkins
    December 17, 2011

    This is probably my final comment at tucsoncitizen.com (which will please many)

    I have no accounts in the social media world and have no intention of getting one. That means – with the new requirement to authenticate via social media – I will no longer be commenting.

    (I couldnt even find contact information for tucsoncitizen.evans)



  7. cognizant
    December 17, 2011

    I don’t do social media either, goodbye citizen.


  8. Jonathan DuHamel
    December 17, 2011

    Pray tell, just how does “Overgrazing, over cultivation, and over zealous (but uncompleted) development destroyed the ecosystem along the freeway” lay waste to highway medians and shoulders?
    BTW, the town is Willcox with two Ls. I made the same error in a post recently.


  9. alohapuna
    December 19, 2011

    Pam, I agree with much of what you say. However, we must not fail to acknowledge that most such accidents are really due to irresponsible driving habits. It’s the same when it rains. Drivers simply drive too fast for conditions and often follow others too closely. Even under good weather conditions this is dangerous because its impossible to avoid a collision when a vehicle in front slows down or stops for some reason. Most multiple vehicle crashes are avoidable. It only takes common sense.

    That beiing said, it certainly helps to try to prevent such hazardous conditions because driver’s habits will probably not change and generally continue to get worse.


  10. Tyrone Slothrop
    December 20, 2011

    Ms. Hannley et al:

    Somehow, the thrust of my argument seems to have escaped you. To clarify, I will illustrate it with an example that is all too likely in todays litigation happy culture. Family of four stupidly drives into a dust cloud and  gets side-swiped by another vehicle. Their car goes off the road and runs into a nice, sturdy Palo Verde tree, instead of through the boundary fence and out into somebody’s field. Since the car went from say 50 mph to zero in the space of a foot or two injuries are not only likely, it will be argued by their lawyer that, had the tree not been there the injuries would have been much less severe. Since the tree belongs to the people of Arizona, through the DOT, guess who eats the judgement? Guess who doesn’t like eating such judgements? Guess what happens to the tree(s) after the first ten or twenty such incidents and subsequent court battles take place?
    In regard to your comment about concrete barriers on freeways: Again you seem to have ignored the reason that they are there in the first place – 1. to prevent cross-median head-on collisions and 2. to make what collisions that do take place – glancing ones with much more gradual deceleration. You could have your trees and safety too. You’d just have to get the AZDOT to install barriers on both sides of the highway and in the median. You could still plant the area beyond for esthetics. Somehow; I don’t think such a proposal is going to go over too well in the capitol, what with shortfalls and all. ‘Cosas de La Vida.
    With respect to your comment about dust storms not killing people: you’re absolutely right. With the possible exception of asthmatics, dust storms have killed no one. On the other hand, severe impacts engendered by running into immovable objects (such as trees) have killed legions. Since we agree that dust storms kill no one, I expect that you will be consistent in your logic and agree that guns don’t kill people any more than dust storms (or trees) do- it’s how people interact with these inanimate objects that causes the damage: no touchee the tree, no touchee the gun – no problem. 
    P.S. Bushes and trees STILL don’t filter out dust, which is where this discussion started.
    P.P.S: If you need something to be outraged about: Why not check into Iraqi vet  Jose Guerena Ortiz getting blown away in his own house by the Tucson SWAT boys?


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on December 17, 2011 by in Arizona, environment, sustainability, Tucson and tagged , , .

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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela Powers Hannley

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals--not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election. My platform focuses on economic reforms to grow Arizona's economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, growlocal small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs. I also stand for equal rights, choice, and paycheck fairness for women. I am running as a progressive and running clean.

My day job is managing editor for the American Journal of Medicine, an academic medicine journal with a worldwide circulation. In addition, my husband and I co-direct Arizonans for a New Economy, Arizona's public banking initiative. I am a member of the national board of the Public Banking Institute, and I am co-chair of the Arizona Democratic Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party.

I am a published author, photographer, videographer, clay artist, mother, nana, and wife. I have a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio State University and a masters in public health from the University of Arizona. I grew up in Amherst, Ohio, but I have lived in Tucson, Arizona since 1981. I am a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson and the Public Relations Society of America.

My Tucson Progressive blog and Facebook page feature large doses of liberal ideas, local, state, and national politics, and random bits of humor. I also blog at Blog for Arizona and the Huffington Post.

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