In the late 19th century, America was growing. The pioneers headed west, because many couldn’t resist the lure of the tall grassy land in the midwestern and southern plains of the United States. They planned to settled there to farm. The next few decades were prosperous, but when the 1930s rolled in, so did strong winds, drought, and clouds of dust that plagued nearly 75 percent of the United States between 1931 and 1939. The Dust Bowl, as it was known, had arrived. The problem likely began in the early 1920s, when a post-World War I recession led farmers to try new mechanized farming techniques as a way to increase profits. Many bought plows and other farming equipment, and between 1925 and 1930 more than 5 million acres of previously unfarmed land was plowed. With the help of mechanized farming, farmers produced record crops during the 1931 season. However, overproduction of wheat coupled with the Great Depression led to severely reduced market prices. The wheat market was flooded, and people were too poor to buy. Farmers were unable to earn back their production costs and expanded their fields in an effort to turn a profit. The prairie was covered with wheat in place of the natural drought-resistant grasses, and to add to the problem, they left any unused fields bare. With the drought leaving much of the country severely dry, no natural grasses to hold the dirt in place, the higher than normal temperatures, and increasingly strong winds, the country was hit with what many called Black Blizzards, which were rolling dust storms driven by high winds.
Now, if you have ever been in a Haboob (Arabic meaning, blasting), which is a type of intense dust storm carried on a weather front, you have a pretty good idea of what the Dust Bowl was like, except that instead of lasting a few hours, the Dust Bowl storms continued to occur from 1931 to 1939. Now imagine 8 plus years of dust blowing everywhere!! It was in their hair, in their eyes, in their houses, and in the food. They couldn’t get away from it, and since 75 percent of the United States was in the grip of the Dust Bowl, moving didn’t help either…not to mention the fact that no one could afford to anyway. It was a disgusting situation, and it was about to get much worse. By 1932, 14 Black Blizzards were reported, and in just one year, the number increased to nearly 40. It seemed that no end was in sight, but still, the worst was yet to come.
On the afternoon of April 14, 1935, the residents of the Plains States were forced to take cover as a Black Blizzard, blew through the region. The storm hit the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northwestern Oklahoma first, moving south for the remainder of the day. It hit Beaver around 4:00 pm, Boise City around 5:15 pm, and Amarillo, Texas, at 7:20 pm. The conditions were the most severe in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, but the storm’s effects were felt in other surrounding areas. The day would forever be labeled Black Sunday. It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense economic and agricultural damage. It is estimated to have displaced 300 million tons of topsoil from the prairie area of the United States. The storm was so harsh because of the high winds that hit the area that day. The combination of drought, erosion, bare soil, and winds caused the dust to fly freely and at high speeds. The loose dust flying around was enough to inhale, and many people suffocated with the dust filling their lungs. The day was a black day for more reasons than one. It is hard to contemplate a dust storm that was so severe that people couldn’t breathe…to the point of death! Nevertheless, that was exactly what Black Sunday was like.
Following the horrible Black Blizzards of 1935, and the massive amount of damage caused by these storms, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, which established the Soil Conservation Service as a permanent agency of the USDA. The SCS was created in an attempt to provide guidance for land owners and land users to reduce soil erosion, improve forest and field land, and conserve and develop natural resources. It was the hope that the United States could prevent another Dust Bowl, and while small areas have a tendency to have dust storms, there has never been another era like the Dust Bowl era that the United States citizens suffered in the 1930s.