Living In The Dust Bowl

WORLD HISTORY | February 28, 2019

Dust storms affecting Cimarron County, Oklahoma, USA, April 1936. The Dust Bowl was a series of devastating dust storms that affected the prairies of the United States and Canada. Source: (gettyimages.com)

What Exactly Was The Dust Bowl?

Over the span of eight years, dust storms had become commonplace whereas in the past they were very rare. The air was very dry and static charges would even short out cars! People didn’t want to shake hands because the electric shock was so strong it could knock a person over! The storms blew huge drifts of dust and sand that buried barns, homes, pastures, and livestock. Around 850 million tons of topsoil blew away in 1935.

Map of United States showing the area of the country affected by dust storms. Source: (pinterest.com)

Where Did The Dust Bowl Happen

In the early 1900s the southern plains, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas, was thought of as the last frontier of agriculture. Due to WWI, the price of wheat had risen dramatically. The government created generous assistance programs to encourage people to settle in the southern plains and farm. Thousands of people settled in the area and began farming.

The aftermath of a dust storm. Source: (youtube.com)

Why Did It Happen?

This wasn’t entirely a freak of nature occurrence and much of the devastating effects of the dust bowl could have been prevented. Many people were clearing land to farm it, known as “The Great Plow-Up.” This turned 5.2 million acres of grassland into wheat fields. When the Thirties came around along with the Great Depression, the wheat prices dropped dramatically, which spurred the farmers to plow up even more land to plant more wheat. When the prices kept dropping, many farmers abandoned their farms, which left the land bare. Then came the drought. This drought lasted for eight years straight. When storms came through, there was so much exposed land that the topsoil just blew away.

Farm families trying to survive a dust storm. Source: (youtube.com)

Surviving In The Dust Bowl

Dust storms were also called Black Blizzards. The storms were so bad that the soil from the Great Plains was carried all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and coated ships in the dust. The dust storms would last for days at a time. The dust worked its way into every home and structure, no matter how sealed up it was. People developed ‘dust pneumonia’ and had chest pain and a tough time breathing. Over 2.5 million people left the Southern Plains states. It was the largest migration of people in American history. Most went west but others returned to the east coast.

Photo of car trying to escape a dust storm. Source: (pinterest.com)

Why Did The Dust Bowl End?

The American government knew they had to do something or they would lose the plains. They sent out Civilian Conservation Corp workers to plant shelter belts of trees. They helped farmers learn new practices such as contour plowing. They established conservation areas and purchased failed farms. With these interventions along with a change in the weather cycle and the beginning of WWII, prosperity returned to the Southern Plains.

Farm in Oklahoma. Source: (oklahomafarmreport.com)

Lessons Learned

In the early 1950s, another drought hit the area. Dust storms returned, although not as bad as the Thirties. The reason it was not as bad was due to the conservation interventions. Farmers were continuing to apply the methods they learned about during the Thirties. The government had bought up much of the land and had it returned to grassland instead of exposed plowed land. Thankfully there has not been another dust bowl since!

Tags: black blizzards, dust bowl, dust storms, 1900s, Southern plains

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