The Dust Bowl

Severe dust storms wipe out agriculture in the 1930s

WHAT WAS THE DUST BOWL?

The Dust Bowl, also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the US and Canadian prairies during the 1930s. This happened during the Great Depression. Severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–40, but some regions of the High Plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years.

ENORMOUS EFFECTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY

Loose and weak soil got picked up from the high winds and swirled it into dense dust clouds called "black blizzards". These clouds reeked havoc by choking cattle and pasture lands and confiscating 60% of the Southwest region away. Some people even died from the intensity of the winds and particles flying through the wind.

SURVIVORS

HOW IT GOT STARTED

The prairies of the Midwest were originally protected by tall prairie-grass, that held the topsoil in place during droughts. However, once the prairies were settled, farmers ploughed over the prairie grass. Years of over-cultivation meant there was no longer protection from the elements. When the drought killed off the crops, high winds blew the remaining topsoil away.

WHERE DID IT DAMAGE THE MOST?

Although the Dust Bowl affected the entire Midwest, the worst of it was concentrated in the Oklahoma panhandle. It also severely affected the northern two-thirds of the Texas Panhandle, the northeastern part of New Mexico, most of southeastern Colorado, and the western third of Kansas. By 1934, the droughts covered 75% of the country, severely affecting 27 states.

EFFECT ON THE ECONOMY

The massive dust storms forced migrant farmers to lose their business, their livelihood and their homes. Families migrated to California or cities to find work that often didn't exist by the time they got there. Many ended up living as homeless “hobos” or in shantytowns called “Hoovervilles," named after then-President Herbert Hoover.

DRAUGHT CRISIS

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There is extreme draught in the middle part of the country. It gets smaller as you travel further from the center of the United States. As you can see, only very little parts of the country are mid-range or moist at this time.

COULD THE DUST BOWL HAPPEN AGAIN?

ABSOLUTELY! Agribusiness is draining the groundwater from the Midwest about eight times faster than rain is putting it back in. This area stretches from South Dakota to Texas and supplies about 30 percent of the nation's irrigation water. At this rate, the groundwater will be gone within the century, and parts of the Texas Panhandle will run dry this year.