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Why has I-10 been closed so frequently between Arizona and New Mexico?

Arizona Department of Public Safety public information officer Kameron Lee drives cautiously through blowing dust along I-10 near the eastern border of Arizona. (Twitter Photo/@laurenreimer4)

PHOENIX — A stretch of Interstate 10 connecting southern Arizona and New Mexico has been closed — a lot — in recent weeks.

The 62-mile stretch of road between San Simon, Arizona and Lordsburg, New Mexico has been closed for hours at a time the past two weeks as blowing dust moves through the area.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has helped clear multiple wrecks — the dust cuts visibility — and luckily no one has been killed.

A detour around the closure sends drivers nearly 100 miles out of the way.

Arizona is no stranger to all varietals of blowing dust — storms, haboobs, devils, what have you — especially on the state’s highway system.

But such issues tend to be limited to summer’s monsoon season, not the spring. So why has just one stretch of I-10 been closed so much as of late?

A field waiting to be planted.

Just south of San Simon, 160 acres of land have been cleared to make room for a grove of pecan trees. That land runs very close to I-10.

Because the soil has been loosened, it takes very little to scoop it up into the air and cut drivers’ vision to zero.

“This happened very recently,” Mark O’Malley with the National Weather Service said. “Now it only takes gusts to around 20 miles per hour to pick up the dust and dirt and bring it across the freeway.”

O’Malley said the winds need only to blow in one direction to close the highway.

“Anytime a south or southwest wind turns gusty, [the Arizona Department of Transportation] has to close down the interstate,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is looking into the fields, but until action is taken, a main artery into the state will be closed down because of dust.

KTAR’s Jim Cross contributed to this report.

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