The Definition of the Dust Bowl

Quck answer

The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that occurred in the United States during the 1930s. It was primarily caused by a combination of drought, poor agricultural practices, and strong winds. The affected area, known as the Great Plains, experienced massive soil erosion, leading to the formation of large dust clouds that engulfed the region. The Dust Bowl had devastating effects on agriculture, causing crop failures and forcing many farmers to abandon their land. It also resulted in widespread poverty and mass migration, as people sought better opportunities elsewhere. The government implemented various conservation measures to mitigate the effects of the Dust Bowl and improve land management practices.

It’s not difficult to appreciate a sunny day, but have you learned to value a rainy day or even a couple of thunderstorms? Some individuals have even chosen storm chasing, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, as their profession.

Typical storms consist of thunder, lightning, rolling clouds, and heavy rain. But what if a storm consisted of swirling winds carrying dust and grains of sand…so much dust and sand that the Sun disappeared and high noon looked like midnight?

Though such storms may sound like something from a science fiction book, they were a reality for residents of the central and southwestern plains during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s. In areas like Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, these storms, known as “black blizzards,” were a frequent occurrence for almost a decade.

In the late 1800s, the central and southwestern plains attracted pioneers heading west. The millions of grassy acres promised prosperity for farmers. However, everything changed in the early 1930s, when a combination of natural and human-made factors resulted in one of the most severe ecological disasters in U.S. history.

The central and southwestern plains states, already affected by the economic consequences of the Great Depression, experienced an extended period of drought, high temperatures, and strong winds from 1931 to 1939. These environmental factors alone would have been detrimental, but they were exacerbated by harmful agricultural practices that caused wind erosion, leading to the Dust Bowl.

Following World War I and the subsequent economic downturn, many farmers attempted new techniques to increase profits. Using newly acquired plows, farmers converted millions of acres of drought-resistant natural grasses into wheat fields. These grain crops lacked the sturdy root structure of the natural grasses, setting the stage for an ecological disaster.

When the drought struck, crops suffered, and the once-fertile topsoil was blown away by the strong winds, resulting in the famous dust storms of the era. Millions of acres were left barren, unsuitable for crops, and even more susceptible to drought.

Historians estimate that the Dust Bowl impacted up to 75% of the United States in some way. Between two and three million people are believed to have migrated further west to California in search of employment or new land. These migrants became known as “Okies,” as many of them originated from Oklahoma.

The federal government implemented various legislations during the Dust Bowl to provide assistance to those affected. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs included acts for mortgage and farming relief, as well as the establishment of agencies such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Soil Conservation Service (SCS).

While these efforts helped farmers learn environmentally-friendly farming methods, true relief only came when the rains returned in 1939. Throughout the 1940s, many of these lands became productive again. However, some of the same mistakes were repeated after World War II, as rising grain prices prompted farmers to plant wheat instead of natural grasses.

Give It a Try

Are you prepared to gain more knowledge about the Dust Bowl? Find a friend or family member who can assist you in exploring the following activities:

  • Can you envision what life was like during the Dust Bowl? Go online and take a look at “When the Dust Settled,” a compilation of photographs from the Dust Bowl era that will provide you with a glimpse of those dark days. What do you believe would have been the biggest hardship of living during that time?
  • To hear stories from people who survived the horrific days of the Dust Bowl, visit “The Dust Bowl” online. You can watch various videos of individuals sharing their unique experiences from that period. How do you think a dust storm would compare to a modern thunderstorm? Which do you think would be more severe? Why?
  • The Dust Bowl lasted for the majority of the 1930s. To gain a better understanding of the significant events that defined this period, read “Timeline: Surviving the Dust Bowl, 1931-1939” online. Which events do you believe were the most important? Do you think an event like the Dust Bowl could happen again? Why or why not?

Helpful Sources


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *