Atmosphere And Weather

Causes of the Dust Bowl

Mary Vance's image for:
"Causes of the Dust Bowl"
Image by: 

The Dust Bowl was brought about by several unfortunate
circumstances working together.

The plains areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas,
and New Mexico were the states affected by the Dust Bowl.
Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas were the hardest hit.

During the early years of the Great Depression, Texas
and Oklahoma were prospering. They seemed far removed from
the soup lines of the suffering eastern United States.
1930 and 1931 had been bumper crop years for wheat in these

The great grassland prairies had been turned under for the
productive wheat crops. The farmers of those regions knew
about crop rotation and cover crop planting. Wheat prices were
good. Enough so that they failed to rest and replenish the
land. Any grassland was considered wasted land. It was plowed
under for wheat. Areas that had been weakened by over planting
of wheat were used for cattle grazing, further destroying the
native grasses.

Things began to work against the farmers. Ocean temperatures
in the 1930's were unstable. Changes in the oceans surface
temperatures created shifts in weather patterns. These shifts
changed the flow of the jet stream. The weakened jet stream
did not bring into the plains, the moisture laden air from
the Gulf of Mexico. Low level winds caused a reduction of
rainfall throughout the Midwest.

The name "Dust Bowl" was what the people of the region who had
to suffer through the ravages of weather and the Great Depression
grew to call it.

This era of the 1930's saw many extremes of weather. There were
blizzards, tornadoes, floods, followed by drought and dust storms.
In March of 1932 there were twenty two days of what they called
"dirt storms". They watched their precious topsoil blown into other
states. The drifts of soil piled up against buildings and fence
rows making dirt banks.

January 1933 brought another massive dust storm that destroyed much
of the wheat crops. In 1933 there were 139 days of dust storms.

1934 had fewer dust storms. Then in May 1934, a storm blew dust from
Texas,Oklahoma,and Kansas, as far east as New York City and Washington
D.C. . There was less tornado activity in 1934 than the previous year.

Something even more sinister than the tornadoes began. A heat wave
that lasted for months, reaching temperatures sometimes above 120
degrees. Hundreds of people died from the extreme heat.

April 14, 1935 started out as a pleasantly warm day, with only a
slight breeze. Suddenly a cloud of dust traveling at 60 miles and hour
engulfed everything. People were trapped in their homes or businesses
for hours. Survivors described it as "feeling like it lasted an
eternity". This date became known as "Black Sunday".

During 1936 the dust storms increased,and more record temperatures.
In 1936 an earthquake shook the baked land of Oklahoma.
In the fall of 1936 rain finally came and the heat wave was broken.
Through all of this most of the people stayed on with their farms.

1937 brought another year of tormenting dust storms. When the rain
would finally come, there would be floods to further wash away the

1938 brought a new round of suffering. A blizzard of dust and snow
caused enormous damage and tragedy. 1938 became known as the year of
the "Snuster".

A great migration of several hundred thousand people had begun.
Whole families of completely impoverished people were traveling
the roads seeking any kind of job. They were for the most part
turned away, left to drift on hungry, and homeless. Some towns
had armed guards to turn the people away.

The Great Depression was a dark time in America. John Steinbeck
wrote his book "The Grapes Of Wrath" in 1939. It is a very accurate
portrayal of life during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

Could the same conditions arise now or in the future to cause
another Dust Bowl? There are very few things that we can control
about the weather. We can manage our farmlands better, plant
windbreaks and let native grasses grow. Aside from those things
nature pretty much has control.


More about this author: Mary Vance