Authorities have released the identify of the man killed in Sunday’s massive pileup on Interstate 80.
Franklin Owens, 81, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, died after being airlifted to Bryan Health West in Lincoln.
More than a dozen others were hurt, including Owens’ wife, Betty, 68. The couple were traveling in a 2014 Toyota SUV when they became ensnared in multi-vehicle crash.
‘It was blackout’: Dust storms cause two I-80 pileups in two days, killing 1 and injuring a dozen
GOEHNER, Neb. — Sunny skies turned black Monday as Alisha Schau and her husband drove into a swirling cloud of dust on Interstate 80.
The couple soon spotted wrecked vehicles in the median and rescue crews responding to a pileup west of Seward, Nebraska.
“You really didn’t know what you were going into,” she said. “(It was) white knuckles.”
It was the second I-80 pileup caused by a blinding dust storm in two days in eastern Nebraska, both fueled by winds gusting to more than 45 mph. Between the two incidents, 40 vehicles crashed into a curtain of dust, one person died and more than a dozen were injured.
The National Weather Service said the big winds, dry weather and loose topsoil in tilled fields combined to create prime conditions for dangerous dust storms.
But some relief is on the way.
Cindy Fay, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hastings, said there are chances of rain and thunderstorm starting Tuesday for the areas hit by the dust storms. That moisture will pack down the dirt. The forecast is similar for other areas along I-80 including Grand Island and North Platte.
She also said the winds will be settling down.
Sunday’s pileup west of York involved 29 vehicles, resulted in one death and sent more than a dozen people to area hospitals, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.
Monday’s pileup involving 11 vehicles occurred between Seward and York, about 40 miles from the Sunday crash. The weather service reported thick dust clouds blowing across I-80 in that area and wind gusts of 45 to 53 mph.
The patrol said there were injuries in Monday’s pileup and one person reportedly was taken to the hospital in Seward.
Schau said as she and her husband neared the site of Monday’s crash, they saw brake lights and then could hardly see the vehicles in front of them as the dust cloud enveloped their car.
“All of a sudden, it was blackout,” she said. Schau said they were driving west toward their home in Cozad, Nebraska.
The couple had to stop for a few minutes in a westbound lane. Then the traffic began moving, and they drove past wrecked vehicles in the median, plus ambulance crews and other emergency responders.
Shortly before coming upon the crash site, Schau said, they encountered two other dust clouds. Visibility was near zero, she said, but they were past the dust within seconds.
Aaron Mangels of the National Weather Service in Hastings estimated that dust storms occur one or two times a year in Nebraska, far less than in the southwestern United States.
Dry weather helps spur the dust storms.
April was particularly dry, and near-drought conditions have crept into south-central Nebraska.
The York area, for example, is 2 inches below normal precipitation so far this year, according to the weather service.
Typically wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph are needed for a dust storm, and gusts in the area where the pileups occurred were nearly that high.
Jen Campana, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said that her agency does all it can to mitigate dust on state rights of way but is powerless to control it on adjacent private land.
“It’s spring right now, it’s prime field time for farmers who are really behind the clock,” she said, due to the late spring.