Facts About the Dust Bowl
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Facts About the Dust Bowl

facts about the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. When it started and how it affected so many people.

The Dust Bowl was caused by several different factors that all seemed to come together at the same time. The reasons for this disaster didn’t just happen overnight, they had been building up for at least a decade. Over planting of crops during World War I, the government said to plant more and the farmers did. After World War I things were great, the prices for crops were good and the rains came. In order to plant more crops, farmers were buying new land and equipment on credit. New technologies were developed that farmers used to tear up land even faster. The farmers didn’t rotate crops nor did they leave areas of native grasses, they just dug up everything and planted crops. Some people started saying this is all wrong. The ground is now upside down. And it was. The native grasses were now underneath and the dirt on top.

This area of the United States was primarily in the Great Plains states, from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the high plains. Early travelers called this the Great American Desert and it was even written that way on early US maps. The entire area was mainly covered in native grasses. These grasses had been there for thousands of years, keeping the soil healthy and in place.

In 1931 there was a record wheat harvest, which depressed the price of wheat. In order to make payments on land and machinery on time and to make up for the lower price of wheat, farmers had to plant more and more which meant tearing up the land further. Farmers were warned by Native American Indians and also old time cattle ranchers that had known that land for many years, not to tear up the native grasses. But the farmers had to by now and continued to plow under even more native grasslands and plant crops. Soil conservation practices had to be abandoned so that extra crops could be planted to meet payments as the price fell for wheat and other crops.

By the early 1930s the Great Depression had hit the country. And at this time a severe drought had started in the Great Plains. The rains didn’t come anymore as expected. In the high plains, the 1930s were known as the Dirty 30s.

The Soil Conservation Service described the area of the severe drought as in western Kansas, eastern Colorado, the Oklahoma panhandle and the Texas panhandle.

There were 14 severe dust storms in 1932 and in 1933 there were 38 of them reported. In 1937 there were 134 dust storms. These dust storms were called black blizzards.

Dust storm heading into Sherman Texas April 14, 1935

By 1934, The Yearbook of Agriculture announces that 100 million acres have lost all or most of their topsoil, another 125 million acres are about to and 35 million acres cannot grow crops of any kind.

On May 9, 1934, a major dust storm started over the northern plains of Montana and the Dakotas and by night it had reached Chicago dumping an estimated 6,000 tons of dust. By the next morning the dust had reached Boston and New York where the streetlights came on at midday and cars had to use headlights. The dust cloud was 1,800 miles wide.

Sunday, April 14, 1935 was the worst dust storm, being called Black Sunday. The day after this storm, an AP reporter used the term “Dust Bowl” for the first time.

Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, April 1935

April 19, 1935 in Washington D. C., a group of senators were in a meeting about the situation in the Plains states. Bored and not paying attention, one of them looked outside and said that it is getting dark outside as the sun disappeared behind the cloud of dust that started 2,000 miles to the west five days earlier on Black Sunday.

The Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 27, 1935. This law gave farmers money to plant native grasses, trees and certain vegetables to protect the soil from soil erosion and keep it from blowing away.

By the spring of 1935, people began to do die of what was called dust pneumonia and in 1938 Woody Guthrie wrote a song called “Dust Pneumonia Blues”.

During the dust storms, the static electricity was so bad it would short out cars leaving people stranded in the middle of these dust storms

Farm equipment buried in dirt - South Dakota 1936

By December 1935, experts had estimated that 850 million tons of topsoil had blown off of the southern plains.

About 25% of the population left the affected states and by 1940, 2.5 million people had moved out of the Plains states.

Reporter Ernie Pyle wrote, “If you would like to have your heart broken, just come out here”.

The rains came again in the fall of 1939 and with the start of World War II in 1941, the price of crops were rising. New farming and conservation techniques were learned and put into practice. In the middle 1950s another severe drought hit the same area. There were dust storms, but the lessons learned from the dirty 30s saved the area from having another Dust Bowl.

Historian Robert Worster wrote, "The ultimate meaning of the dust storms of the 1930s was that America as a whole, not just the plains, was badly out of balance with its natural environment. Unbounded optimism about the future, careless disregard of nature's limits and uncertainties, uncritical faith in Providence, devotion to self-aggrandizement - all these were national as well as regional characteristics."

© 2009 Sam Montana

Resources and helpful information

WGBH/PBS Film about the Dust Bowl

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Historical Facts About The Great Depression

The Facts of World War II in Europe

Small Farms, Externalities, and The Dust Bowl of the 1930s

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Comments (89)
Ranked #2 in History

Our politicians forget too quickly. The current banking problem is an example, thinking that FDR’s banking regulations weren’t needed anymore because we are now smarter, and see where that got us. I think the Dust Bowl’s lessons were almost forgotten with the corn and ethanol thing the last couple of years. I have talked to some friends of mine from farming families in Iowa and Kansas, and they all told me that the over-growing of corn has hurt the soil. Corn is one of the most hurtful to the soil crops in that it takes a lot of nutrients out and leaves the soil somewhat bare. Now we have corn everywhere and ethanol plants closing. Another example is in S.E. Colorado in the Comanche National Grasslands. The Army has bases down there and they wanted to expand. Many ranchers said no, they would hurt the area and the grasslands. Politicians said yes, the people won. The Army is mad and threatening to take their ball and go home from Colorado now. Those grasslands are a direct result of the Dust Bowl and a monument the restored native grasses.

Ranked #2 in History

And thank you Clairsie for the vote up, I got so carried away I forgot that.

Ranked #2 in History

The politicians said we need the Army and they need places to practice, in reality what the politicians meant was we need their money. The Army already has a practice area there in the Pinon Canyon, the whole fight started when the Army said they needed to expand, and that’s when all the red flags came out. Ruining the soil is a simple thing to do. That’s why there are such arguments now about Monsanto and their weird seeds and fertilizers. I really think most farmers know better when it comes to their soil, but when huge dollar signs present themselves like the high wheat prices before the Dust Bowl and recently the corn ethanol prices, common sense and past lessons go out the window.

[...] was so bad it would short out cars leaving people stranded in the middle of these dust storms Facts about the Dust Bowl

Ranked #2 in History

Your welcome Collin. I'm glad the article helped you with your essay.

Many times I've passed over reading this article. I remember my maternal grandparents talking about the 30's with the dust storm and great depression. Just yesterday my mother-in-law (who is 91) was talking about the depression and how hard it was. Her remarks were along the line that our children who are in their 20's and 30's and younger don't realize how bad it was. She said that with the current financial problems the world is having is teaching all of us that we take too much for granted. Your research is amazing. Thank you for the facts!

Ranked #78 in History

Young people can't know how bad it was because all they've ever known has been fairly moderate weather and a growing economy. It's eerie, how much some of what's happening right now parallels what happened before.


Are you an accurate writer? I want to make sure I get my facts right.

Ranked #2 in History

Yes Danny, it is accurate. You could also go to the link under the article and watch the PBS show about the Dust Bowl for even more facts.

Ranked #47 in History

That was interesting, sad but factual. I had not heard of the dust bowl before, thanks for an informative article.

Ranked #2 in History

Glynis, a big part of 20th century American history. Farmers should never forget the lessons of the Dust Bowl hopefully. I have heard though, the past couple of summers over planting of corn hurt the soil.

Ranked #20 in History

Excellent article.


very good info

Destiny love

thanks for all the info u have gave us we thank u

Carlos Sanchez

This has a lot of facts in it. This help in my test in collage .

Ranked #2 in History

Hi Carlos. Glad it helped. If you need more facts, right under the article, there is a link to WGBH/PBS. That is a video of the Dust Bowl you can watch online with more facts and actual pictures from the Dust Bowl.

wanna bee

yeah this was really helpful


when was this atrticle posted?

Ranked #2 in History

Katie, the article was posted on Feb. 13, 2009.


Very, very informative!!

I had a really great time reading all about the Dust Bowl. Thanks for that.

Crazze 2

thank u for the info u gave me 4 my history project!!


the dust bowl obviously cause many damages to the whole city and stateit musta been badddd :(


this website is so cool it must of been really dangrous cant wait for weekend


thats just wow, & that would suck for people that live there

cali lynn

can you post more facts on the dustbowl i need them alot it wud b really helpful !!!!! thanxxx

The underlying problem of most of our (US) major disasters is emerging to show over-extended credit practices. Lesson to be learned is that if you can't afford it, you don't need it.

This is highly informative. This just shows that meddling with the environment can have disastrous consequences. I'm disturbed at this time about our place being devoted to mono cropping mainly for profit. I believe this will have negative impacts on ecosystem balance.

Ranked #2 in History

Hi Patrick. Mono cropping goes against about everything farmers should know about rotating crops and soil usage. Several years ago when corn for ethanol was the hot crop, farmers planted too much corn. And corn uses up the soil nutrients. The lessons of the Dust Bowl should never be forgotten or they could just cause it again.

Wise and true, Sam.

Ranked #1 in History

Excellent work, very illuminating.

kirsten delashmutt

alsome work. It gave me lots of facts for my homwork paper!!!!!!!!!

Ranked #80 in History

wow that must have been something... certainly easy to see why you are ranked # 1 in History - well done.

micheal jackson

i loveeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!! thisss facts ur koooooooooo!!!

guess who??

sam, thanx sooooooo much for this article it was exteremly helpful for my history paper!!

P.S. Write more!!!!!


This article was so great it helped so much on my New Mexico history project!!!!


this helped me with my science homework sooooooooooo much.


this is awesome! it helped so much!!! this was like the best website to find things about the dust bowl!


This is such a great website to find information about the dust bowl on. If only students knew how to find it when they are studing about the dust bowl in school, they would be able to write a great essay about the dust bowl. im out peeps l8er......................................


Sam Montana that was a great article that u first wrote and it relly helped me out in school. Thank you so much for posting that article up top. well im out Peeps..................well not really im just gettin off the site got other things i gotta go and do real quick

seanterra ford

that dust bowl was sooooooooooooooooooo heart breaking it killed some of my family members and lovinf friends


sam, i am working on a 1933 history paper just for fun!! and i need more facts and details and stuff about the dust bowl , great depression , and ww2 ....! (reply wen ya can)

Ranked #2 in History

Cali, under this article in the resources section, I have listed a great video about the dust bowl you can watch online. I also wrote an article about the Great Depression, there is a link to that article under this one. As for WWII, there is so much to research about that you could find something anywhere. It was such a big war, you need to decide what WWII, before Pearl Harbor or after. European theater or Pacific or even Africa.


ThANK you so much essays it helped me a lot but i will have a lot of informaition about it and get a 4

Chris Rios

Sam, have you written any articles at all about WWII? The information given in this article is great! and I was hoping this isn't your only one...

Ranked #2 in History

Chris, no I haven't written an article about World War II yet. It is such a big subject it would have to be in different parts. There is WW II in the pacific and WW II in Europe and all the different countries involved.


thanx for the info it helped with my language essay!!!!i wrote 3 pages out of 4 just with this artical!!!thanx for the info!!and the dust bowl should be remebered cause my dad didnt roate the crops and we had to wait like a year befor we cld plant again!

Dj Martinez

this has helped alot on my language arts project, Thanks for writing it :)

Dj Martinez

this has helped alot on my language arts project, Thanks for writing it :)

Ranked #41 in History

Another great topic from US history Sam. Thumbs up.

Ranked #2 in History

@ Chris Rios - I just wrote two articles about World War II. You can read them at http://factoidz.com/the-facts-of-world-war-ii-in-europe/ and at http://factoidz.com/the-facts-of-world-war-ii-in-the-pacific/

Marissa Paige.

Sam, this article has been quite helpful to me and apparently to alot of other people. You're a really good writer. I look forward to checking out some of your other pieces on WWII.

how did the dust bowl start

Ranked #2 in History

korey, the first paragraph explains how the Dust Bowl started. Over planting and over plowing of the land and then a terrible drought started.

Miguel Ramirez

What happened in the 1930's was tragic but I think that History will repeat itself

Very heart touching article. I really wonder how the people of that areas survived from the dust bowl.

La gringo

thats so hot what happend back in the olden days


mann yuh guys have a lot of good things in here man


thats a lot of dust


Thank you, this helped me on my English project.


Thx i needed dis for mah project it was some good info so again thx now lemme get out of here before my teacher catches me leaving a comment


OMG! This really helped me on my Soc. St. project!!! thx!!

Ranked #2 in History

Nate, I am not sure of your question. I am the author of this article and this is the original article here on Factoidz. A great book about the Dust Bowl is called "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan. Look under the article for more resources about the Dust Bowl.


Is there any more info.about the Dust Bowl or is this it cuz we're doin a project and we gotta write an essay?

Wow, what a brilliant piece of work. i remember reading The Grapes of Wrath, which dealt with the 1930's dust bowl.


awesome i need more info about the dustbow lol i am in 4 gradde


this helped me with my social studies test

When the land is raped people reap the results. Well done summary of the Dust Bowl.

Ranked #2 in History

I hope they still have a lot of native grasses planted in many of the non-farmed areas. In some of these areas like the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, they are having a worse drought now. Worst drought in some areas since before the Dust Bowl.


ya!!this was fantastic!!!


Dhis Ihs PrettY NiCe IhtS HElpin Me Ohn My ProJect ! Write MoRre !


fifth grade project completed


dis wuz really helpful thnx:)

Ranked #73 in History

This is an outstanding article describing the events that lead up to and following the Dust Bowl events. Nature always has a way of showing man that it decides our fate, not the other way around. I'm voting up your article!

your article on the dust bowl gave me inspiration for the best-selling beauty product "dusty dave's shampoo: made with real dust". by the way, what is 25 sqared!


I have to ask questions for a class about this does anyone know any?

Ranked #2 in History

What is your question and I will try and answer.

austin harris


grrrrrrrr 6678

dose any one know how to right a good essay on soil conservation??????????

Mark Phs

My mother-in-law is a "Soddy" and survived the dust bowl as a child.

She was born in 1927 and lived in a sod house (Soddy) in northwest Kansas. The prairie did not have a lot of trees but it did have prairie grass that has thick, deep roots. Cut in 2' x 1' x .5' chunks and stacked to make walls. They did not lose the farm, but it was close, that land is still producing and owned by a family member.

Ranked #2 in History

Hi Mark, that is very interesting. Where in northwest Kansas? A friend of mine was a kid during the Dust Bowl outside of Norton, in northwest Kansas. It might have also been a sod house, I know he didn't have electricity yet. He has told me all kinds of stories of the Dust Bowl in NW Kansas of the sand dunes and how the cattle looked.


You said: "The dust storm was 1,800 miles wide." Since length is longer than width, it seems that the dust storm had and area over 3 million square miles, almost the area of the entire U.S.! Is that true? I read another article on About.com that said that the Dust Bowl covered 100 million acres (156,250 sq.mi.) at its worst. Can you please explain?

Ranked #2 in History

Hi Ron, I changed the word dust storm to dust cloud. I think the word cloud more accurately describes what 1800 miles wide was. As Timothy Egan described in his book, “The Worst Hard Times”, was this dust cloud was a giant rectangle. You can picture the point of the rectangle as being in Montana and the Dakotas where the dust storm occurred and by the time the dust cloud had reached the east coast and out into the Atlantic Ocean, it had become a dust cloud 1800 miles wide. This would be describing the dust cloud from this one dust storm and not the actual Dust Bowl affected area.


Hi Sam:

Thanks for your quick response and clarification. Did Timothy Egan say what the area of that rectangular dust cloud was?

Ranked #2 in History

Hi Ron, No, not that I remember. Unfortunately there are some different figures about the dust bowl. I looked at a web site for Oklahoma State that says the Dust Bowl covered 150,000 square miles and another web site states the Dust Bowl covered an area of 300,000 square miles. Timothy Egan’s web says the Dust Bowl covered 100 million acres at the peak. One web site talked about the May 9th dust storm that spread the dust cloud to 900 miles wide and 1,500 miles long. By the next day, this dust covered the entire eastern seaboard. I believe it is about 1,300 miles between Miami and Boston, so close to the 1,800 miles figure wide. By the time it got out into the Atlantic Ocean, it could have been 1,800 miles wide. You should read Egan's book. I have the links to the web sites where I got this info. I dont know if the links will work here, I will try, you might have to copy and paste them. http://centerwest.org/egan/ http://oklahoma4h.okstate.edu/aitc/lessons/intermed/dust.pdf http://www.auhsd.us/view/2852.pdf

very informative

This is really helpful information. Thanks a lot Sam!

The greater desaster actually is the more attention people pay on it!


you taught me an important lesson in history, just now. thank you! brilliant presentation and well researched.