The Dust Bowl Causes and Effects . Relief of the drought area. Farming submarginal lands often had negative results, such as soil erosion and nutrient leaching. These economic conditions also created pressure on farmers to abandon soil conservation practices to reduce expenditures. The Dust Bowl was a significant disaster for the United States, resulting in large economic and agricultural losses, farm abandonment, and a level of human migration that, in the recent historical period, is comparable only with the evacuation of New Orleans in 2005 (4, 10). The Dust Bowl. 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. In these areas, there were many serious dust storms and droughts during the 1930s. Here are only a few of them. Last weekend no one was taking an automobile out f… Livestock went blind and suffocated, their stomachs full of fine sand. Research Bulletin: Relief and Rehabilitation in the Drought Area. 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. 1937. In fact, at the peak of farm transfers in 1933–34, nearly 1 in 10 farms changed possession, with half of those being involuntary (from a combination of the depression and drought). Through their efforts, the first soil conservation districts came into being, and demonstration projects were carried out to show the benefits of practices such as terracing and contouring (for a discussion of the activities of the SCS during this period, see Hurt, 1981). Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado. Mental Health‎ > ‎ The Impact of the Great Depression on Mental Health. Imagine soil so dry that plants disappear and dirt blows past your door like sand. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. 1975. The resulting agricultural depression contributed to the Great Depression’s bank closures, business losses, increased unemployment, and other physical and emotional hardships. 1934. On the Southern Plains, the sky turned lethal. Last weekend was the worst dust storm we ever had. 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 outbreak of World War II also helped to improve the economic situation. Despite all efforts, many people were not able to make a living in drought-stricken regions and were forced to migrate to other areas in search of a new livelihood. Photograph by Solomon D. Butcher. Thanks, Scott W. Alexandria, VA. Great question, Scott! During the 1930s, many measures were undertaken to relieve the direct impacts of droughts and to reduce the region’s vulnerability to the dry conditions. Determining the direct and indirect costs associated with this period of droughts is a difficult task because of the broad impacts of drought, the event’s close association with the Great Depression, the fast revival of the economy with the start of World War II, and the lack of adequate economic models for evaluating losses at that time. Areas of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, … Many of these measures were initiated by the federal government, a relatively new practice. Several actions in the 1920s also increased the region’s vulnerability to drought. This led to a return to some of the inappropriate farming and grazing practices that made many regions so vulnerable to drought in the 1930s. Clothes in the closets are covered with dust. A 1937 bulletin by the Works Progress Administration reported that 21% of all rural families in the Great Plains were receiving federal emergency relief (Link et al., 1937). Effects of the Plains drought sent economic and social ripples throughout the country. In the 1930s, eastern Colorado experienced the worst ecological disaster in the state’s history. (Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Digital Archives). The depression helped “soften deep-rooted, hard-line attitudes of free enterprise, individualism, and the passive role of the government”, thus paving the way for Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, which in turn provided a framework for drought relief programs for the Great Plains (Warrick, 1980). “Boosters” of the region, hoping to promote settlement, put forth glowing but inaccurate accounts of the Great Plains’ agricultural potential. Affected Texas cities included Dalhart, Pampa, Spearman, and Amarillo. “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A History of the American West. The primary impact area of the Dust Bowl, as it came to be known, was on the Southern Plains. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s stands as the United States’ worst environmental disaster in history. Migrant Farmers and Living Conditions. Once-thriving farms are still abandoned, and new dangers are again putting the Great Plains in serious jeopardy. Migration along Route 66. The magnitude of the droughts of the 1930s, combined with the Great Depression, led to unprecedented government relief efforts. Although cable news and the internet weren’t around to sensationalize the prolonged event, the Great Plains, and Southern Plains were devastated by the damage. Federal aid to the drought-affected states was first given in 1932, but the first funds marked specifically for drought relief were not released until the fall of 1933. Misleading information, however, was plentiful. The peculiar combination of these circumstances and the severity and areal coverage of the event played a part in making the 1930s drought the widely accepted drought of record for the United States. © 2020 - National Drought Mitigation Center. Some of the most famous events include the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee, and the Love Canal toxic dump disaster that came to light in the 1970s. 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. When droughts hit, topsoil dried up and blew away. Moreover, items such as gasoline and replacement parts were redirected from federal drought and conservation programs to the war efforts. At that time, little was known of the region’s climate. Since most of the best farming areas were already being used, poorer farmlands were increasingly used. Some of the worst storms blanketed the nation with dust from the Great Plains. Federal aid to the drought-affected states was first given in 1932, but the first funds marked specifically for drought relief were not released until the fall of 1933. Get a verified writer to help you with What Caused the Dust Bowl. A dust storm approaching Rolla, Kansas, May 6, 1935. It was the most damaging and prolonged environmental disaster in American history. .” An Agricultural and Social History of the Dust Bowl. Crops withered and died. Hurt, D.R. Drought Hazard in the United States: A Research Assessment. It was caused by several concurring factors—rising wheat prices, a series of unusually rainy years, and generous federal farm policies prompting a land boom. The thing that caused the dust bowl is that the people living on the plains picked the grass which made a lot of dust storms around the area and then they had a big drought in the land after that the plain was so dry that it caused dust to for up which caused the dust bowl. The 1930s drought is often referred to as if it were one episode, but it was actually several distinct events occurring in such rapid succession that affected regions were not able to recover adequately before another drought began. Warrick, R.A.; P.B. Have you ever returned from a day at the beach only to find sand everywhere? These qualities are succinctly expressed in the comments of one contemporary Kansan: “We have faith in the future. In the summer of 1931, rain stopped falling and a drought that would last for most of the decade descended on the region. One drawback (described by Hurt, 1981) was that the start of World War II shifted remaining funds and priorities away from drought-related programs. Additional Resources. According to the federal Soil Conservation Service, the bowl covered 100 million acres in 1935. Think of this, but imagine it a thousands times worse and you may have some idea of what it was like to In some areas, the storms didn't relent until 1940. 1981. 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). Warrick et al. 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. Many days this spring the air is just full of dirt coming, literally, for hundreds of miles. These rains, along with the outbreak of World War II, alleviated many of the domestic economic problems associated with the 1930s. 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. The 1930s drought and its associated impacts finally began to abate during spring 1938. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. The term Dust Bowl was suggested by conditions that struck the region in the early 1930s. These lower prices meant that farmers needed to cultivate more acreage, including poorer farmlands, or change crop varieties to produce enough grain to meet their required equipment and farm payments. We are here to stay” (quoted in Hurt, 1981). But despite their tragic consequences, none of these events come close to being the worst environmental disaster in the United States. 1966. 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. In 1936, the people got their first glimmer of hope. In his epilogue to "The Worst Hard Time," Egan writes: In the 21st century, there are new dangers facing the Southern Plains. It sifts into everything. When the national economy went into decline in the late 1920s because of the Great Depression, agriculture was even more adversely affected. Although adverse conditions forced many settlers to return to the eastern United States, even more continued to come west. The Farmer’s Frontier, 1865–1900. Some of the land use patterns and methods of cultivation in the region can be traced back to the settlement of the Great Plains nearly 100 years earlier. This meant that conservation programs and research were significantly reduced during this period. The weather got worse long before it got better. Men were taken off work programs to enter the armed forces and to produce for the war effort. Photo by Arthur Rothstein. Dust storms engulfed entire towns. How do today’s farmers care for the soil? Biswas (eds.). 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. This began to change with the development of the Great Depression in the late 1920s and the 1933 inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Government Camps During the Dust Bowl. These newcomers were often in direct competition for jobs with longer-established residents, which created conflict between the groups. Congressional actions in 1934 alone accounted for relief expenditures of $525 million (U.S. House of Representatives, 1934); the total cost (social, economic, and environmental) would be impossible to determine. Learn more about this period and its impacts. 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. The Economics and Effects of the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl And Hobos. Don't waste time. At that rate, it will be completely dry within a century. Tim Egan, a New York Times reporter and best-selling author who wrote a book about the Dust Bowl called "The Worst Hard Time," described that day as one of biblical horror: More than a quarter-million people became environmental refugees—they fled the Dust Bowl during the 1930s because they no longer had the reason or courage to stay. Ironically, the Ogallala Aquifer is not being depleted to feed American families or to support the kind of small farmers who hung on through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years. However, even with government help, many farmers could not maintain their operations and were forced to leave their land. We're talking sand in your hair, between your toes, in your ears, in places you didn't even know you had. A bulletin by the Works Progress Administration reported that 21% of all rural families in the Great Plains were receiving federal emergency relief (Link et al., 1937). Works Progress Administration, Washington, D.C. Riebsame, W.E. PBS Ken Burns Dust Bowl Series: gpb.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/economics-dust-bowl-gallery/ken-burns-the-dust-bowl/ This term was used in reference to the resultant areas where several dust storms occurred in America during the 1930s. Many other proactive measures taken after the 1930s drought also reduced rural and urban vulnerability to drought, including new or enlarged reservoirs, improved domestic water systems, changes in farm policies, new insurance and aid programs, and removal of some of the most sensitive agricultural lands from production (Riebsame et al., 1991). Decades later, the land is still not completely restored. The term "Dust Bowl" was coined when an AP reporter, Robert Geiger, used it to describe the drought-affected south central United States in the aftermath of horrific dust storms. 2005. Although repeated droughts tested settlers and local/state governments, the recurrence of periods of plentiful rainfall seemed to delay recognition of the need for changes in cultivation and land use practices. It didn't stop there; the Dust Bowl affected all people. ­The seeds of the Dust Bowl may have been sowed during the early 1920s. 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. Before the 1930s drought, federal aid had generally been withheld in emergency situations in favor of individual and self-reliant approaches. However, broad calculations and estimates can provide valuable generalizations of the economic impact of the 1930s drought. Carl. Between 2013 and 2015, the aquifer lost 10.7 million acre-feet of storage. (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. Farmers could no longer grow crops as the land turned into a desert. "I wonder if in the next 500 years--or the next 1000, there will be summers when rain will fall in Inavale. Instead, the agricultural subsidies that began as part of the New Deal to help farm families stay on the land are now being given to corporate farms that are growing crops to be sold overseas. By 1937, the Soil Conservation Service had been established, and by the following year, soil loss had been reduced by 65%. The depression and drought hit farmers on the Great Plains the hardest. The fact that the Dust Bowl happened during the Great Depression in the 1930s, caused even more economic problems for farmers. 1991. Furthermore, during the 1920s, many farmers switched from the lister to the more efficient one-way disc plow, which also greatly increased the risk of blowing soil. We've been having quite a bit of blowing dirt every year since the drought started, not only here, but all over the Great Plains. 93–123. The Devastation is Furthered by the Dust Bowl. 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. Problems remained, but these programs and activities would play a fundamental role in reducing the vulnerability of the nation to the forthcoming 1950s drought. This ecological and economic disaster and the region where it happened came to be known as the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl had many causes and effects. ThoughtCo uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. 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. The PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl was amazing – what a disaster of epic proportions and a reminder of how important the soil is to our lives! Even ships at sea, 300 miles off the Atlantic coast, were left coated with dust. How Grandfather Clauses Disenfranchised Black Voters in the U.S. 7 New Deal Programs Still in Effect Today, 1900 Galveston Hurricane: History, Damage, Impact, The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s, The Most Important Inventions of the Industrial Revolution. When droughts and harsh winters inevitably occurred, there was widespread economic hardship and human suffering, but the early settlers put these episodes behind them once the rains returned. At its worst, the Dust Bowl covered about 100 million acres in the Southern Plains, an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania. 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. The Dust Bowl Many of these farmers were forced to seek government assistance. In the 1930s, drought covered virtually the entire Plains for almost a decade (Warrick, 1980). Although it technically refers to the western third of Kansas, southeastern Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the northern two-thirds of the Texas Panhandle, and northeastern New Mexico, the Dust Bowl has come to symbolize the hardships of the entire nation during the 1930s. The impact of this mass migration had both positive and negative effects on California and the country as a whole. Still, children and adults inhaled sand, coughed up dirt, and died of a new epidemic called "dust pneumonia.". Basically, reductions in soil conservation measures and the encroachment onto poorer lands made the farming community more vulnerable to wind erosion, soil moisture depletion, depleted soil nutrients, and drought. Some voluntarily deeded their farms to creditors, others faced foreclosure by banks, and still others had to leave temporarily to search for work to provide for their families.   Unsustainable farming practices worsened the drought’s effect, killing the crops that kept the soil in place. In addition to overproduction and falling crop prices, the Great Plains suffered a phenomenon that became known as the Dust Bowl. Link, I.; T.J. Woofter, Jr.; and C.C. In the summer of 1931, rain stopped falling and a drought that would last for most of the decade descended on the region. For example, millions of people migrated from the drought areas, often heading west, in search of work. Many bought plows and other farming equipment, and between 1925 and 1930 more than 5 million acres of previously unfarmed land was plowed [source: CSA].With the help of mechanized farming, farmers … Of all the droughts that have occurred in the United States, the drought events of the 1930s are widely considered to be the “drought of record” for the nation. Of all the droughts that have occurred in the United States, the drought events of the 1930s are widely considered to be the “drought of record” for the nation. Fortunately, the lessons learned from this drought were used to reduce the vulnerability of the regions to future droughts. The dust storms started at about the same time that the Great Depression really began to grip the country, and it continued to sweep across the Southern Plains—western Kansas, eastern Colorado, New Mexico, and the panhandle regions of Texas and Oklahoma—until the late 1930s. The programs had a variety of goals, all of which were aimed at the reduction of drought impacts and vulnerability: President Roosevelt visiting a farmer who received a drought relief grant, Mandan, North Dakota, 1936. The dust and sand storms degraded soil productivity, harmed human health, and damaged air quality. 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