By People Staff
November 27, 1989 12:00 PM

They came in the night. They moved swiftly and silently, making the merest whisper as they surrounded the houses and the mobile homes and engulfed the automobiles. Then they rang the doorbell at the Schlomer house.

It was 5 A.M., and nobody goes around ringing doorbells at 5 A.M. in Mobridge, S.Dak., without a good reason. Ruth Schlomer looked out a window. What she saw shocked her. She called out to her husband. “John,” she said, “you’re not going to believe this; it’s tumbleweeds.”

Indeed, giant balls of dead Russian thistle were piled as high as 18 feet around two sides of the Schlomers’ split-level home, pressing hard against the door (and the doorbell), burying their driveway and blocking the street outside.

By the time dawn came to the small town (pop. 4,183) in north-central South Dakota, it was obvious that Mobridge had been overrun. As many as 60 houses on the west side of town were buried, and several streets were blocked. Darlene Zahn was awakened by the eerie scratching sounds outside her metal trailer home. “At first,” Zahn says, “I thought it was the end of the world.” She had to call the street department to tunnel through to her door.

Tumbleweeds have long rolled across the prairie, but never, in anyone’s memory, in this profusion. Two years of drought coupled with winds of more than 50 mph are believed to be the cause of their attack on Mobridge. It took city workers three days to clear the streets and yards. Townspeople then piled the weeds in the street and had them baled up and carted away to serve as a windbreak. Mobridge, S.Dak., is once again safe from tumbleweeds.