Livestock went blind and suffocated, their stomachs full of fine sand. (Image: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress LC-USZ62-16083). In addition to this inaccurate information, most settlers had little money and few other assets, and their farming experience was based on conditions in the more humid eastern United States, so the crops and cultivation practices they chose often were not suitable for the Great Plains. Drought in the Great Plains: A Case Study of Research on Climate and Society in the USA. The Economics and Effects of the Dust Bowl. An Agricultural and Social History of the Dust Bowl. Dust storms also swept across the northern prairies of the United States and Canada, but the damage there couldn't compare to the devastation farther south. Program on Technology, Environment and Man Monograph #NSF-RA-E-75-004, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder. Climatic Constraints and Human Activities, pp. Although records focus on other problems, the lack of precipitation would also have affected wildlife and plant life, and would have created water shortages for domestic needs. Here are only a few of them. However, it is not known how many of the remaining cases (32%) were indirectly affected by drought. The Dust Bowl spread from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the north, all the way to Oklahoma and parts of Texas and New Mexico in the south. Misleading information, however, was plentiful. Still, children and adults inhaled sand, coughed up dirt, and died of a new epidemic called "dust pneumonia.". These rains, along with the outbreak of World War II, alleviated many of the domestic economic problems associated with the 1930s. The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent the aeolian processes (wind erosion) caused the phenomenon. Effects of the Plains drought sent economic and social ripples throughout the country. The Farmer’s Frontier, 1865–1900. Farmers who had plowed under the native prairie grass that held soil in place saw tons of topsoil—which had taken thousands of years to accumulate—rise into the air and blow away in minutes. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s stands as the United States’ worst environmental disaster in history. The Dust Bowl And Hobos. Moreover, items such as gasoline and replacement parts were redirected from federal drought and conservation programs to the war efforts. Fite, G.C. Even though short-term conditions seemed to be relatively stable, this production growth had some drawbacks. In 2003, U.S. cotton growers received $3 billion in federal subsidies to grow fiber that would ultimately be shipped to China and made into cheap clothing to be sold in American stores. But the earliest settlements occurred during a wet cycle, and the first crops flourished, so settlers were encouraged to continue practices that would later have to be abandoned. But despite their tragic consequences, none of these events come close to being the worst environmental disaster in the United States. The idea that the climate of the Great Plains was changing, particularly in response to human settlement, was popularly accepted in the last half of the 19th century. National Drought Mitigation CenterUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln, Study shows ranchers with drought plans in place make some pivotal moves sooner than those who don’t, NDMC's Haigh discusses drought and rancher decision-making on Center for Grassland Studies Podcast, Drought Center develops social media resources to help encourage drought monitoring. Although the 1988–89 drought was the most economically devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States (Riebsame et al., 1991), a close second is undoubtedly the series of droughts that affected large portions of the United States in the 1930s. 398, Washington, D.C. Warrick, R.A. 1980. It is not possible to count all the costs associated with the 1930s drought, but one estimate by Warrick et al. In 1936, the people got their first glimmer of hope. Crops withered and died. In J. Ausubel and A.K. 1. Baker; and W. Brinkman. The magnitude of the droughts of the 1930s, combined with the Great Depression, led to unprecedented government relief efforts. The Dust Bowl was caused, in large part, by excessive tillage of the soil. “Boosters” of the region, hoping to promote settlement, put forth glowing but inaccurate accounts of the Great Plains’ agricultural potential. In 1933, the number of dust storms climbed to 38, nearly three times as many as the year before. 1981. Thanks, Scott W. Alexandria, VA. Great question, Scott! One drawback (described by Hurt, 1981) was that the start of World War II shifted remaining funds and priorities away from drought-related programs. These qualities are succinctly expressed in the comments of one contemporary Kansan: “We have faith in the future. Although adverse conditions forced many settlers to return to the eastern United States, even more continued to come west. Pergamon Press, New York. The Dust Bowl was a decade-long catastrophe that swept up 100 million acres of topsoil in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Have you ever returned from a day at the beach only to find sand everywhere? Some of the worst storms blanketed the nation with dust from the Great Plains. The resulting agricultural depression contributed to the Great Depression’s bank closures, business losses, increased unemployment, and other physical and emotional hardships. Several factors including a market crash started a period of economic downturn known as the Great Depression. By 1937, the Soil Conservation Service had been established, and by the following year, soil loss had been reduced by 65%. Works Progress Administration, Washington, D.C. Riebsame, W.E. 1975. 1991. After we wash the dishes and put them away, so much dust sifts into the cupboards we must wash them again before the next meal. At that time, little was known of the region’s climate. It didn't stop there; the Dust Bowl affected all people. Imagine soil so dry that plants disappear and dirt blows past your door like sand. If the Roosevelt era marked the beginning of large-scale aid, it also ushered in some of the first long-term, proactive programs to reduce future vulnerability to drought. As important as these programs may have been, the survival of a majority of the families and enterprises undoubtedly rested solely with their perseverance and integrity. We're talking sand in your hair, between your toes, in your ears, in places you didn't even know you had. The outbreak of World War II also helped to improve the economic situation. New computer simulations reveal the whipped-up dust … The Devastation is Furthered by the Dust Bowl. One of the main causes of the Dust Bowl was the geography of the Southern Great Plains. Biswas (eds.). In the end, it was a combination of willpower, stamina, humor, pride, and, above all, optimism that enabled many to survive the Dust Bowl. Carl. Hugh Bennett, an agricultural expert, persuaded Congress to finance a federal program to pay farmers to use new farming techniques that would conserve topsoil and gradually restore the land. (1980) claims that financial assistance from the government may have been as high as $1 billion (in 1930s dollars) by the end of the drought. A dust storm approaching Rolla, Kansas, May 6, 1935. These economic conditions also created pressure on farmers to abandon soil conservation practices to reduce expenditures. 1966. At that rate, it will be completely dry within a century. Revisiting the Dust Bowl: Some graphs that detail how bad the drought was. Don't waste time. That’s what really happened during the Dust Bowl. Many days this spring the air is just full of dirt coming, literally, for hundreds of miles. The fact that the Dust Bowl happened during the Great Depression in the 1930s, caused even more economic problems for farmers. The WPA report also noted that 21% of all rural families in the Great Plains area were receiving federal emergency relief by 1936 (Link et al., 1937); the number was as high as 90% in hard-hit counties (Warrick, 1980). PBS Ken Burns Dust Bowl Series: gpb.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/economics-dust-bowl-gallery/ken-burns-the-dust-bowl/ The Dust Bowl resulted from years of unsustainable agriculture that eroded soils and destroyed native grasslands that held the earth in place. This term was used in reference to the resultant areas where several dust storms occurred in America during the 1930s. The middle of the nation is in the midst of the first of four major drought episodes that would occur over the course of the next decade. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. The seeds of the Dust Bowl may have been sowed during the early 1920s. The Dust Bowl. Research Bulletin: Relief and Rehabilitation in the Drought Area. Many circumstances exacerbated the effects of the drought, among them the Great Depression and economic overexpansion before the drought, poor land management practices, and the areal extent and duration of the drought. A storm in May 1934 deposited 12 million tons of dust in Chicago and dropped layers of fine brown dust on the streets and parks of New York and Washington, D.C. However, even with government help, many farmers could not maintain their operations and were forced to leave their land. Talene Tse. If the water runs out, there won't be any for the cotton or the inexpensive clothing, and the Great Plains could be the site of yet another environmental disaster. 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