A dust storm led to near blackout conditions along I-55 in Illinois May 1, 2023, resulting in 8 deaths, 32 hospitalizations and 72 destroyed vehicles. Photo: WICS-TV Springfield, Illinois

Dust Storm Catastrophe Serves as Major Warning

Need for widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture practices, such as no-till, is more dire than ever

The tragedy of the infamous Dust Bowl era of the 1930s was repeated in the “mini” dust storm on I-55 in the heart of the U.S. Corn Belt in May 2023. A recent article that I wrote alongside Randall Reeder, Rattan Lal, David R. Montgomery and the late David Brandt, highlighted soil mismanagement that caused a catastrophic accident that resulted in 8 deaths, 32 people hospitalized and 72 vehicles destroyed. This catastrophe was the result of the interaction of 3 factors: severe seasonal drought, 50 mph winds and a preplant tillage operation. The first 2 factors were climate related and beyond the control of the farmer, but the 3rd factor was a management decision made under pressure to get the crop planted in a timely manner

Consequences of Tillage

The unintended consequences were catastrophic for those involved in the interstate highway accident when the dust cloud moved downwind off the farm. While there is concern for the environmental damage done to "living soil systems" from intensive tillage, there is even more concern for the environmental and social damage done off farm. 

Nature’s visual image of the dust cloud and the associated highway tragedy is impossible to forget. Other visual images of soil erosion are provided by nature as result of erosion and runoff creating muddy streams; soil, fertilizer, and carbon loss; sediment deposition in road ditches and streams; and leaching of nitrate fertilizers that ultimately end up creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Soil dust from both…

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