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Hot Shots: Fire train, dust storm, fierce flood

Highlighting images in transportation, trucking and weather

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Every Friday, FreightWaves takes a look at the past week or so in social media, highlighting trucking, transportation and weather. This week features old train cars fitted with water tanks for firefighting, a deadly wreck caused by a sandstorm, a trucker who misjudged floodwaters and more.

Track record

As large wildfires continued to burn out West this week, response teams got help from a unique source — converted freight trains. Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) deployed one of its water trains to the nearly adjacent Dixie and Fly fires in Northern California.

Related: Wildfires halt Union Pacific, BNSF trains in Northern California

The train consists of two rail cars, each holding 12,500 gallons of water and a pumper. The train has been going back and forth over 7-mile stretches, covering up to 50 miles daily.

The crew has been battling hot spots along tracks, bridges and tunnels in the region by not only spraying water, but also applying thermal gel to help prevent damage to nearby structures. The nozzles can spray liquids up to 75 feet. These former tank cars were converted into water pump cars, and Union Pacific has about 50 of them, known as the Fire Car Fleet. They are strategically placed along the company’s rail lines in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, and their crews are ready to respond, day or night.

Dust in the wind

A dust storm Sunday in Utah led to a major pileup, eight deaths and several critical injuries. It happened around 4:30 p.m. on Interstate 15 near Kanosh, about 160 miles south of Salt Lake City. Southbound traffic in the area was shut down until early Monday morning.

According to a Utah Department of Public Safety statement, “twenty-two vehicles were involved in Sunday’s crashes after high winds caused a sand or dust storm and impaired visibility on the roadway.” The area has been under a major drought for a year, and wildfires have charred the ground in recent years. This made it easy for powerful winds that day to produce the intense storm.

Turn around, don’t drown

A trucker in Yuma, Arizona, learned a tough lesson about trying to drive through floodwaters. Recent monsoonal thunderstorms dumped intense rainfall in the area, flooding a portion of U.S. Highway 95 north of the city. That’s where the tanker driver attempted to make it through the high water, but ended up losing control and rolling over.

By all accounts, the driver got out of the cab and wasn’t hurt. However, driving through flooded areas is dangerous because people often underestimate the depth of the water, as well as the strength of moving water. Also, the road could wash out, leaving drivers in a sinkhole. On average, in the past 30 years, flooding caused the second-highest number of annual weather-related deaths in the country. Heat was No. 1, according to the National Weather Service.

Over the rainbow

There’s a lot of beautiful weather out there — it’s not all gloom and doom. A truck driver took a snapshot of a perfect rainbow Thursday in Vermont. It appeared near the ABFFreight service center in Brattleboro, along the Connecticut River in the southeastern corner of the state.

A rainbow appears when sunlight and atmospheric conditions are just right. A rainbow requires water droplets floating in the air, which is why they are visible right after it rains. To increase the chances of seeing a rainbow, the sun must be at a person’s back and the clouds cleared away.

When light enters a water droplet, it slows down and bends as it goes from air to the denser water. The light reflects off the inside of the droplet, separating into its component wavelengths, or colors. When light exits the droplet, it makes a rainbow.

A full rainbow is actually a complete circle, but we can only see the part that’s above the horizon. From an airplane, in the right conditions, one can see an entire circle.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.