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The Dust Bowl
What was the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl refers to a place and time during the 1930s, when countless farms in the United States and Canada were destroyed due to drought and dust storms. The events of this period affected the lives of millions, putting a permanent stamp on the American consciousness.
Where did the Dust Bowl take place?
The Dust Bowl primarily affected the American Great Plains region, most notably the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. So many came from Oklahoma that people often called the displaced farmers “Okies,” regardless of their place of origin.
What are the Great Plains?
The area known as the Great Plains takes up vast swathes of land in the middle of the North American continent, roughly centered between the Rocky Mountain range and the Mississippi River. Most of it is prairie land, with native grasses making up the majority of the local flora. Heavy agricultural development of the area combined with its cyclical rainfall patterns to create the conditions that eventually led to the Dust Bowl.
What caused the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl phenomenon resulted from a combination of ignorant farming practices and unfortunate weather patterns. American farmers plowed under the native grasses in favor of cash crops, under the mistaken assumption that the seasons of heavy rainfall would continue indefinitely. When a drought came in the 1930s, there were no longer any plants to hold moisture in the topsoil, and so it dried out and blew away in the strong winds.
How long did the Dust Bowl last?
The Dust Bowl began in 1930 and lasted anywhere from five to ten years, depending on the area. The effects it had were profound, with social and environmental consequences that continued for decades afterwards.
What were some of the effects of the Dust Bowl?
The Dust Bowl displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and because it happened to coincide with the Great Depression, they had trouble getting back on their feet once they had moved to places like California. Novelist John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, considered to be one of the great American novels, about the plight of such families. The ability of the land to produce crops was severely damaged, and thousands of farmers were financially ruined. Many people were even killed as a result of starvation and conditions such as dust pneumonia.
What is dust pneumonia?
Dust pneumonia is a sickness that can result from dust storms, caused when a thick layer of dust settles deep in the lungs and prevents them from functioning properly. The Black Blizzards of the Dust Bowl brought about many cases of this disorder, although it is not known exactly how many.
What were the Black Blizzards?
This was a common nickname for the enormous dust storms that devastated the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl, ripping up the topsoil and sweeping thousands of tons of dirt as far away as the East Coast. In some places, dust was even seen to fall like snow, piling up on the ground in huge drifts. One of the worst storms took place on April 14th, 1935, which was thereafter referred to as Black Sunday.
What finally ended the Dust Bowl?
There were several factors involved in bringing the Dust Bowl to a close. The United States government engaged in an aggressive campaign to limit the damage and educate the local farmers in more sustainable growing practices. Techniques such as planting trees and grasses were helpful in anchoring the soil and greatly reduced the severity of the dust storms, but so much damage had already been done that it was difficult for the region to recover easily. One of the biggest factors in the gradual recovery was the end of the drought cycle in the late 1930s, bringing more moisture to the area. Also, many of the farming families had simply left, and the land was not being as heavily cultivated. Successive generations have been more careful in order to prevent another Dust Bowl phenomenon, employing strategies such as crop rotation in order to better maintain the topsoil.