Rare Dust Storm Causes Pile Up and Chaos On I-55 Near Springfield
When I heard that there was a dust storm in downstate Illinois near Springfield I was surprised. I also didn't think much of it. After all, I lived in Lubbock, Texas, where every spring and fall blowing dust and a dirty sky filled with dirt are normal. So is getting the dust in your hair, mouth, and nose. So I was really surprised when I heard about this Illinois dust storm and the chaos it caused Monday. According to Fox 2 St. Louis, the dust storm caused a chain reaction crash that involved 40 to 60 cars and multiple semi-trucks that closed Interstate 55.
I was surprised because through all the blowing dirt and dust I put up with in Lubbock, it rarely got so bad that you couldn't see what was happening right in front of you. It also didn't regularly cause chain reaction crashes on area roads and highways. For most of my six years in Lubbock, the blowing dirt and dust never got as bad as is shown in this report from Fox 2 in St. Louis.
What was more impressive, and really more dangerous in Lubbock was the rarely occurring haboob. Wikipedia says a haboob "Is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric gravity current, also known as a weather front." What makes this kind of dust storm more impressive is you can see the wall of dust along the front coming at you and it can literally turn day into night.
According to the report from Fox 2, the combination of dry weather, farmers tiling and planting their fields, and the relatively flat farmland without a lot of trees along with 35-45 mile per hour winds created the perfect conditions for a dust storm.
Fox 2 says Illinois State Police responded to multiple crashes both northbound and southbound on Interstate 55 while battling whiteout conditions from the blowing dirt. Unfortunately, six died and dozens were hospitalized because of the crashes, which occurred south of Springfield, Illinois.
Interstate 55 has been closed between milepost 63 to milepost 80 in both directions according to Tweets from the Illinois State Police. The Illinois Department of Transportation says the Interstate will probably remain closed through this morning, Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
While dust storms are rather rare in downstate Illinois, they're not unheard of. According to the National Weather Service, freshly plowed fields and 60-mile-per-hour winds caused everything from reduced visibility to zero visibility in parts of northeast and central Illinois on May 6, 1983. This dust storm caused a nine-car, two-truck, crash near Rantoul, Illinois outside of Champaign-Urbana. Then in 2017, a dust storm closed Interstates 72 and 55 near Springfield and Bloomington respectively.