Anatomy of a Dust Bowl: What causes a Dust Bowl to Happen?

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Anatomy of a Dust Bowl: What causes a Dust Bowl to Happen?

Dust Bowls did not create themselves!  Too much farming in the same areas of land, as well as severe drought in the Midwestern states, helped to cause the Dust Bowl crisis of the mid to late 1930s. The Great Plains' grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to grow wheat. During the years when there was adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops.  But as the droughts of the early 1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and planting and nothing would grow.  The ground cover, such as grass, weeds, & trees, that held the soil in place was gone.   The Plains' winds whipped across the fields, raising large clouds of dust to the sky. The sky would darken for days, and even the most well sealed homes would have a thick layer of dust on the furniture. In some places the dust would drift like snow, covering farmsteads, making the land a barren desert that could not be farmed. 

The Dust Bowl got its name after Black Sunday, April 14, 1935. More and more dust storms had been blowing up in the years leading up to that day. In 1932, 14 dust storms were recorded on the Plains. In 1933, there were 38 storms. By 1934, it was estimated that 100 million acres of farmland had lost all or most of the topsoil to the winds. By April 1935, there had been weeks of dust storms, but the cloud that appeared on the horizon that Sunday was the worst. Winds were clocked at 60 mph. Then it hit…

"The impact is like a shovelful of fine sand flung against the face," Avis D. Carlson wrote in a New Republic article. "People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk... We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. It is becoming Real."

The day after Black Sunday, an Associated Press reporter used the term "Dust Bowl" for the first time. "Three little words achingly familiar on the Western farmer's tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent – if it rains." The term stuck and was used by radio reporters and writers, in private letters and public speeches.

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