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What Caused the Dust Bowl?

Inventive, profane and action-packed, with a wiseass, resourceful hero. Review Posted Online: Jan. Email address:. Please provide an email address.

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Categories of Interest: Select All. Current Affairs. Historical Fiction. True Crime. Profession: Author. Event Coordinator. Film Executive. Foreign Publisher. After fairly favourable climatic conditions in the s with good rainfall and relatively moderate winters, [15] which permitted increased settlement and cultivation in the Great Plains, the region entered an unusually dry era in the summer of The drought dried the topsoil and over time it became friable, reduced to a powdery consistency in some places.

Without the indigenous grasses in place, the high winds that occur on the plains picked up the topsoil and created the massive dust storms that marked the Dust Bowl period.


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The fine soil of the Great Plains was easily eroded and carried east by strong continental winds. On November 11, , a very strong dust storm stripped topsoil from desiccated South Dakota farmlands in just one of a series of severe dust storms that year. Beginning on May 9, , a strong, two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of Great Plains topsoil in one of the worst such storms of the Dust Bowl. On April 14, , known as " Black Sunday ", 20 of the worst "black blizzards" occurred across the entire sweep of the Great Plains, from Canada south to Texas.

The dust storms caused extensive damage and turned the day to night; witnesses reported that they could not see five feet in front of them at certain points.

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Denver-based Associated Press reporter Robert E. Geiger happened to be in Boise City, Oklahoma , that day. Spearman and Hansford County have been literaly [sic] in a cloud of dust for the past week. Ever since Friday of last week, there hasn't been a day pass but what the county was beseieged [sic] with a blast of wind and dirt.

On rare occasions when the wind did subside for a period of hours, the air has been so filled with dust that the town appeared to be overhung by a fog cloud. Because of this long seige of dust and every building being filled with it, the air has become stifling to breathe and many people have developed sore throats and dust colds as a result. Much of the farmland was eroded in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl.

In , a Kansas agricultural experiment station released a bulletin that suggested reestablishing native grasses by the "hay method". Developed in to speed up the process and increase returns from pasture, the "hay method" was originally supposed to occur in Kansas naturally over 25—40 years. Specifically, Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures appear to have had an indirect effect on the general atmospheric circulation, while Pacific sea surface temperatures seem to have had the most direct influence.

This catastrophe intensified the economic impact of the Great Depression in the region. In , many families were forced to leave their farms and travel to other areas seeking work because of the drought which at that time had already lasted four years. More than , Americans were left homeless. Over houses had to be torn down after one storm alone. Parents packed up " jalopies " with their families and a few personal belongings, and headed west in search of work.

The Dust Bowl exodus was the largest migration in American history within a short period of time. Between and , approximately 3.

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This number is more than the number of migrants to that area during the Gold Rush. Not all migrants traveled long distances; some simply went to the next town or county. So many families left their farms and were on the move that the proportion between migrants and residents was nearly equal in the Great Plains states. Historian James N. Gregory examined Census Bureau statistics and other records to learn more about the migrants.

Based on a survey of occupation by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of about , families who arrived in California in the s, he learned that only 43 percent of southwesterners were doing farm work immediately before they migrated. Nearly one-third of all migrants were professional or white-collar workers. After the Great Depression ended, some moved back to their original states. Many others remained where they had resettled. About one-eighth of California's population is of Okie heritage. The greatly expanded participation of government in land management and soil conservation was an important outcome from the disaster.

Different groups took many different approaches to responding to the disaster. To identify areas that needed attention, groups such as the Soil Conservation Service generated detailed soil maps and took photos of the land from the sky. To create shelterbelts to reduce soil erosion, groups such as the United States Forestry Service 's Prairie States Forestry Project planted trees on private lands. Finally, groups like the Resettlement Administration, which later became the Farm Security Administration , encouraged small farm owners to resettle on other lands, if they lived in dryer parts of the Plains.

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt 's first days in office in , his administration quickly initiated programs to conserve soil and restore the ecological balance of the nation. Interior Secretary Harold L. In , it was transferred and reorganized under the Department of Agriculture and renamed the Soil Conservation Service. As part of New Deal programs, Congress passed the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act in , requiring landowners to share the allocated government subsidies with the laborers who worked on their farms.

Under the law, "benefit payments were continued as measures for production control and income support, but they were now financed by direct Congressional appropriations and justified as soil conservation measures. The Act shifted the parity goal from price equality of agricultural commodities and the articles that farmers buy to income equality of farm and non-farm population.

To stabilize prices, the government paid farmers and ordered more than six million pigs to be slaughtered. It paid to have the meat packed and distributed to the poor and hungry. Let me make one other point clear for the benefit of the millions in cities who have to buy meats. Last year the Nation suffered a drought of unparalleled intensity.

If there had been no Government program, if the old order had obtained in and , that drought on the cattle ranges of America and in the corn belt would have resulted in the marketing of thin cattle, immature hogs and the death of these animals on the range and on the farm, and if the old order had been in effect those years, we would have had a vastly greater shortage than we face today.

Our program — we can prove it — saved the lives of millions of head of livestock. They are still on the range, and other millions of heads are today canned and ready for this country to eat. The FSRC diverted agricultural commodities to relief organizations. Apples, beans, canned beef, flour and pork products were distributed through local relief channels. Cotton goods were later included, to clothe the needy. Animals determined unfit for human consumption were killed; at the beginning of the program, more than 50 percent were so designated in emergency areas.

Although it was difficult for farmers to give up their herds, the cattle slaughter program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. The administration also began to educate farmers on soil conservation and anti-erosion techniques, including crop rotation, strip farming , contour plowing , terracing, and other improved farming practices. The government paid reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to practice the new methods.

In the fall of , after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought ended when regular rainfall finally returned to the region. The government still encouraged continuing the use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains. At the end of the drought, the programs which were implemented during these tough times helped to sustain a positive relationship between America's farmers and the federal government.

The President's Drought Committee issued a report in covering the government's assistance to agriculture during through mid it discussed conditions, measures of relief, organization, finances, operations, and results of the government's assistance. Land degradation varied widely. Aside from the short-term economic consequences caused by erosion, there were severe long-term economic consequences caused by the Dust Bowl. By , counties that had experienced the most significant levels of erosion had a greater decline in agricultural land values.

The economy adjusted predominantly through large relative population declines in more-eroded counties, both during the s and through the s. The economic effects persisted, in part, because of farmers' failure to switch to more appropriate crops for highly eroded areas. Because the amount of topsoil had been reduced, it would have been more productive to shift from crops and wheat to animals and hay.

During the Depression and through at least the s, there was limited relative adjustment of farmland away from activities that became less productive in more-eroded counties. Some of the failure to shift to more productive agricultural products may be related to ignorance about the benefits of changing land use.

A second explanation is a lack of availability of credit, caused by the high rate of failure of banks in the Plains states. Because banks failed in the Dust Bowl region at a higher rate than elsewhere, farmers could not get the credit they needed to buy capital to shift crop production.

Patrick Allitt recounts how fellow historian Donald Worster responded to his return visit to the Dust Bowl in the mids when he revisited some of the worst afflicted counties:. In contrast with Worster's pessimism, historian Mathew Bonnifield argued that the long-term significance of the Dust Bowl was "the triumph of the human spirit in its capacity to endure and overcome hardships and reverses.

The crisis was documented by photographers, musicians, and authors, many hired during the Great Depression by the federal government. For instance, the Farm Security Administration hired numerous photographers to document the crisis.

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Artists such as Dorothea Lange were aided by having salaried work during the Depression. Among her most well-known photographs is Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children , [51] which depicted a gaunt-looking woman, Florence Owens Thompson , holding three of her children. This picture expressed the struggles of people caught by the Dust Bowl and raised awareness in other parts of the country of its reach and human cost.

Decades later, Thompson disliked the boundless circulation of the photo and resented the fact she did not receive any money from its broadcast. Thompson felt it gave her the perception as a Dust Bowl "Okie. The work of independent artists was also influenced by the crises of the Dust Bowl and the Depression.

Author John Steinbeck , borrowing closely from field notes taken by Farm Security Administration worker and author Sanora Babb , [ citation needed ] wrote The Grapes of Wrath about migrant workers and farm families displaced by the Dust Bowl. Babb's own novel about the lives of the migrant workers, Whose Names Are Unknown , was written in but was eclipsed and shelved in response to the success of the Steinbeck's work, and was finally published in Migrants also influenced musical culture wherever they went.

Oklahoma migrants, in particular, were rural Southwesterners who carried their traditional country music to California.

Dust Bowl: Definition, Causes, When, Where, Effect, Map

Today, the " Bakersfield Sound " describes this blend, which developed after the migrants brought country music to the city. Their new music inspired a proliferation of country dance halls as far south as Los Angeles. The science fiction film Interstellar features a ravaged 21st-century America which is again scoured by dust storms caused by a worldwide pathogen affecting all crops.


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Along with inspiration from the s crisis, director Christopher Nolan features interviews from the documentary The Dust Bowl to draw further parallels. The change in the total value of agricultural land and revenue was quite similar over the twentieth century. Agricultural land and revenue boomed during World War I, but fell during the Great Depression and the s. The land and revenue began increasing again in , and has been increasing since then. From to the s, total farmland increased and remained constant until when it slightly declined.