Sunday, December 30, 2012

Will We See a Returning US Dust Bowl ?

These are the areas in which the Dust Bowl was most acute in the US.


 And then the dispossessed were drawn west — from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless — restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do — to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut — anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.
John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath, 1939

The Dust Bowl eventually stretched all the way to Canada in the time we could least afford to be unable to grow adequate food.  (Graphic:



    I will admit that I haven't thought much about the horror of "The Dust Bowl" of the nineteen-thirties since primary school.  Even then, it was totally hard to relate to the scenario we were being told as we sat in our brand new rural school with the pretty grass and all of us sitting there in pretty dresses in the prosperity of the sixties.  I remember being told about the displacement of many families when the powdery dry soil couldn't sustain crops in a drought.  This is about all I remember.  I learned more about this in college while getting a degree peripheral to my nursing degree, but the sheer awe of it all escaped me then too.
                   Ken Burns did a series on "The Dust Bowl" recently, and although I didn't see the series, I was intrigued by his promotional commercials for it.  This motivated me to do a little bit of reading about this time. Apparently, World War I pushed American farmers to produce as much food for the US and the world as was possible. The farming practices began to deplete the soil.   The topsoil which had taken a thousand years to develop, was used up and was blown away.  In addition, the aquifer began to deplete.  More than a hundred million acres were left untillable for a time.  In had no idea that the The Dust Bowl had also afflicted Canada.  Simaltaneously, the Great Depression was furthur pressing the world.  The environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl occurred in the most difficult time for Americans and for citizens of the world.  Then, dust storms began.  In excess of fourteen windstorms with particulate dirt and dust occurred and these caused deaths from aspirate pneumonia and asthma.  Goodness knows how many people were unable to exchange oxygen as dirt and dust filled their lungs, or how many developed unusual infections as dirt and bacteria, fungi, and viruses became aerosolized in that dirt.  No one knows how many domestic or wild animals were also lost at a time in which animals were essential to our survival for milk, cheese, eggs, and meat, also.


               There is a lot being written about a potential modern day return to the Dust Bowl.   Last time 7,000 people died and 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes and farms.   According to multiple sources, I will place below, recent droughts that ravaged most of the country’s farmland spurred a dust storm in October that stretched across Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It was so big that it could be seen from space.

(Satellite photograph of Kansas obtained from:

               The most important question here is whether in the face of food inflation, heightened taxes, fewer jobs, mandatory health insurance, etc. whether a continued drought and an inability to farm using best practices would result in a Dust Bowl scenario of some type of fashion, today.  These are simply more reasons to stock long term food.

To Watch Surviving the Dustbowl:

More pictures and more information:


Kelly said...

I watched the PBS story on the Dust Bowl and asked my grandma and neighbor about it. Dreadful times even in our part of Oklahoma. I remember the dust being really bad not too long ago, it's scary. Cover crops are needed to keep that kind of stuff down. Our meterologist said we are 30 inches below normal rainfall for the last two years, it's a major drought here. Have you read the childrens book "Into the Dust" I think that's the name of it, pretty good book for kids and adults to read it's about the Dust Bowl.

Gorges Smythe said...

The last dustbowl was preceeded by bigger and bigger farmers buying out little ones and ripping out line trees, hedge-rows and windbreaks. I hear the windbreaks and line trees are being destroyed once again. We never learn.

JaneofVirginia said...

It's so sad. I really hope this doesn't happen again. The accounts are incredible.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you not only for your comments, but the book recommendation as well. I will read it. Having been born in California, and then lived in NJ, England and Canada, this was not something I really knew about. It seems incredibly important to know what happened now that history is positioned to repeat itself. Such a thing could starve the nation, not just "inconvenience" farmers.

lotta joy said...

I went full blown into studying the dust bowl many years ago, and the reason for it was exactly as Borges Smythe stated. Back then, people weren't used to the luxuries we take for granted. If the electricity or the internet goes down for two hours now, it's time to freak out. We just aren't made of the same cloth they were and gawd bless the ones who were.

JaneofVirginia said...

It is a fascinating subject. I try to imagine 2.5 million people migrating from the Midwest now with only the clothes on their backs and their children, in tractors, or trucks. Where would they go ? What would they do, and how would they eat ? Christianity had a better foothold in our country in those days than it does now, in the days of drive-through communion.

Sandy said...


I'm with Kelly, I remember bad dust flying through both Texas and Oklahoma not to long ago. I even remember driving through one bad dust storm called Haboob.

JaneofVirginia said...

I don't know how many of such storms are within normal limits and how many signal a new Dust Bowl.