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‘This was a very rare and catastrophic event for the state:’ NWS, ISP reflect on deadly I-55 dust storm crash one year later

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) – When drivers traveled on I-55 south of Springfield on May 1, 2023, they confronted extra than simply typical site visitors: a wall of dust blanketed the freeway.

“In my experience, I have seen certain instances such as this,” Ryan Starrick, the Illinois State Police (ISP) southern area command main, mentioned. “That would have had to have been with winter weather.”

Strong winds blew dust from close by farm fields creating zero visibility for drivers. The dust storm resulted in an 84-vehicle pile up that killed eight people.

For almost a day, the interstate was shut down in each instructions as emergency crews labored to clear the wreckage.

“That was something that I haven’t experienced to that magnitude, but have we had to close the road due to dust storms or multi-vehicle crashes, yes, but to the magnitude of May 1, that was something different that day.” Starrick mentioned.

It was the first time the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a dust storm warning east of the Mississippi River.

“This was a very rare and catastrophic event for the state,” Mike Albano, a workers meteorologist at the NWS, mentioned.

And Albano mentioned issuing that sort of warning isn’t at all times simple.

“A lot of times it’s a reactive warning rather than a proactive warning,” Albano mentioned. “With severe weather, we try and be proactive. We do try and get that lead time but a lot of times we hear about these dust storm events, whether it’s road closures, reduced visibility, we’ll hear about them first from law enforcement and/or emergency managers.”

Starrick mentioned ISP was ready to deal with the dust storm crash. A year later, he mentioned there haven’t been any particular adjustments to how they’d reply in the future as a result of climate occasions like dust storms could be tough to foresee.

But Starrick mentioned ISP has met with different law enforcement agencies and fire departments to speak about methods to enhance.

“They would respond, we would respond appropriately to perform life saving measures whether that would be to close the road immediately or to handle someone’s injuries, things of that nature,” Starrick mentioned.

And if a dust storm of this scale occurs once more, Starrick mentioned the huge concern is about security for drivers.

“We would still respond as appropriate, evaluate the situation, provide analysis and if it’s appropriate for us to close the road in certain areas, then that’s what ISP will definitely do to keep people safe,” Starrick mentioned.

Just final month, Central Illinois noticed one other dust storm, this time on I-72 in Sangamon County, however the visibility circumstances weren’t as unhealthy as the one on May 1, 2023.

Central Illinois additionally hasn’t seen many dust storms, however earlier than the one that occurred final year, there have been another extreme ones together with May 6, 1983, June 3, 1990 and May 17, 2017.

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