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Dust Bowl Facts

Abhijit Naik Mar 16, 2020
The 'Dust Bowl' or 'Dirty Thirties' is considered to be one of the worst periods in the history of America, and the facts discussed here will tell you exactly why. Continue reading for more information on Dust Bowl - with reference to its causes and effects.
The Dust Bowl was a brief period, roughly towards the mid-20th century, which was marked by frequent occurrence of severe dust storms in North America.
Such was the intensity of these dust storms that they caused severe damage to the vast prairies in the United States of America and Canada, by disrupting the ecological balance in this region and bringing agricultural activities to a stand still.
Most of the areas of the Great Plains had to bear the brunt of Dust Bowl from 1930 to 1936, though there did exist some areas wherein the miserable conditions prevailed till 1940. It was the fact that these conditions prevailed throughout the decade of 1930s that earned this decade the name 'Dirty Thirties'.

Facts about the Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl area, i.e. the area affected by recurring dust storms during the Dust Bowl, was largely made up of the Great Plains spanning right from the Rocky Mountains in west to the high plains in east.
Early settlers used to refer to this region of North America as the Great American Desert, as the vast land was devoid of a surface water source and vegetation. The only thing that was found in abundance here was the native grass which used to hold the top layer of the soil together.
The conditions which triggered Dust Bowl didn't just occur overnight, but developed over the course of time - mainly as a result of extensive farming which was carried out without paying attention to soil conservation.

Dust Bowl Causes

As people began settling in the Great Plains region they realized that the soil here was quite fertile, and ideal for agriculture, provided a source of irrigation was available. Eventually, this source of irrigation came in form of rains.
Agriculture flourished in this region when it began receiving more than usual amount of rain towards the late 19th century and early 20th century. As the crop produce increased, the price of these crops came down, thus forcing the farmers produce more crop to pay their debt.
In a bid to produce more crop farmers began cultivating more land, as a result of which the native grass which used to hold soil together at one point of time vanished and left the soil here vulnerable to soil erosion.
Eventually, the trigger for Dust Bowl came with a series of droughts occurring towards the early 1930s and the conditions worsened all the more when a major drought  struck this region in 1934.

Dust Bowl Effects

The dust storms, known as the 'Black Blizzards', had become a characteristic trait of the Dust Bowl period. There was dust everywhere and in everything, including food and water. Even animals were found dead with two-inch layer of dirt in their stomach.
The frequency of these dust storms increased as time elapsed, with the region experiencing 14 severe dust storms in 1932, 38 in 1933.... and as many as 134 in 1937. With every storm, several acres of fertile land was reduced to barren land, as the top layer of soil continued to get depleted.
The statistical data provided in the Yearbook of Agriculture revealed (1934) that 100 million acres of land had lost the top soil by then, while an additional 125 acres was vulnerable to the same.
The worst dust storm of this period occurred on Sunday, 14th April, 1934; the day was referred to as the 'Black Sunday'. Interestingly, the use of the term 'Dust Bowl' also came in context of the same storm when a reporter used this term for the first time when reporting this storm the following day.
The damage done was such, that 35 acres of land was rendered useless as a result of these dust storms by 1934. From 1930 to 1940, most of the land in this region lost around 75 percent of the usable top soil as a result of wind erosion.
As many as 2.5 million individuals left the region and settled elsewhere as conditions worsened in the Plains. At least, 200,000 individuals moved to California in 1930s. Somewhere around 500,000 Americans were left homeless during this period, while hundreds of individuals succumbed to health issues like dust pneumonia and malnutrition in course of time.
The land value decline was one of the main reasons for people to move out of this region, with the per-acre value of land coming down by 28 percent in regions which were subjected to severe erosion and down to 17 percent in regions subjected to medium erosion.
Things started falling back in place towards late 30s and early 40s, as rainfall pattern returned to normalcy in 1939 and farmers began resorting to new farming and soil conservation techniques. In the long term, these techniques were beneficial for the farmer as they ensured that the soil retained its fertility and contributed to a higher crop yield.
Furthermore, the price of crops produced increased with the start of the World War II in 1941. It did take some time for the economy and ecology to revert the damage done, but the experience did teach people a thing or two; which made sure that the things didn't go out of hand when a similar drought situation occurred in 1950s.