The Dust Bowl

The Great Depression


An area of Oklahoma, Kansas, and northern Texas affected by severe soil erosion in the early 1930s, which encouraged many people to move.


  • Cause: The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called "black blizzards." These dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region.
  • Characteristics: (1) By 1934, because of years of repeated dust storms, approximately 100 million acres of farmland no longer had enough topsoil to grow crops. (2) During the worst of the Dust Bowl days, students were sometimes sent home to prevent “dust pneumonia.” Other times, they were kept at school overnight, because it was too dangerous to walk home in such harsh conditions and low visibility.
  • Significance: the proactive measures continued in the years following the drought: conservation practices and irrigation increased, farm sizes grew larger, crop diversity increased, federal crop insurance was established, and the regional economy was diversified. Many other proactive measures taken after the 1930s drought also reduced rural and urban vulnerability to drought, including new or enlarged reservoirs, improved domestic water systems, changes in farm policies, new insurance and aid programs, and removal of some of the most sensitive agricultural lands from production.