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The Dust Bowl An American Tragedy. Jim McNeill Silver Bluff High School 64 DeSoto Drive Aiken, SC For NCHE. What were the causes of the Dust Bowl?. There was no single cause for one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the United States. .

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the dust bowl an american tragedy

The Dust BowlAn American Tragedy

Jim McNeill

Silver Bluff High School

64 DeSoto Drive

Aiken, SC


what were the causes of the dust bowl
What were the causes of the Dust Bowl?

There was no

single cause

for one of the



disasters in the

history of the

United States.

the great plains have always suffered from repeated drought cycles
The Great Plains have always suffered from repeated drought cycles.

However, the natural

vegetation of the plains,

a combination of deep-

rooted grasses

Including buffalo

grass, were able to

withstand the

dry periods when

they occurred.

“Wheat was the preferred crop for many farmers, especially when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. The demand for grain overseas was high, and prices rose from less than a dollar a bushel to over two dollars a bushel in 1917.”
increased profits brought new economic options
Increased profits brought new economic options…

“Not everyone believed that such a narrow focus was sensible. ‘Wisely or other-wisely, this region has permitted wheat growing to become its main concern,’ said author

Caroline A. Henderson, a farm wife from Eva,

Oklahoma.” Farmers purchased tractors, disc harrows and combine harvesters to expand their tilled fields and continue reaping large profits from their crops.


“The lands were planted to

wheat year after year

without a thought as to

the damage that was

being done. Grasslands

that should have never been

plowed were plowed up.

Millions of acres of farm

land in the great plains were


1930 was dry but most of the

farmers made a wheat crop.

In 1931 the wheat crop was

considered a bumper crop

with over twelve million

bushels of wheat. Wheat was

everywhere, in the elevators,

on the ground and in the road.

The wheat supply forced the

price down from sixty-eight

cents/bushel in July 1930 to

twenty-five cents/bushel in

July 1931. Many farmers went

broke and others abandoned

their fields. “


“With prices low, money tight, and drought affecting more

than half of the nation, all it took was one more factor – wind

– to create disaster on the plains . . .As historian Vance

Johnson writes, ‘Every wind was destructive, and the wind blew

almost every day. . .Acre by acre, the crops were torn out by their

roots and carried away.’”

Many farmers who stayed on their land switched to raising cattle. That met with, at best, limited success since the animals required large amounts of range land for feed.

Droughts began in 1930 –


Planting was delayed in

1932 and winds destroyed

much of the crops.

1933 saw over 100 “dirty


1934 was a calmer year, but

did see wind storms that

carried dirt all the way to New

York City and beyond.

1935 was a severe year with

early storms lashing the

region. On April 14, a dust

storm so large arose that it

had an impact on Washington

D.C. This day was called

“Black Sunday.”


“During 1936, the number of

dirt storms increased and the

temperature broke the 1934

record high by soaring above

120 degrees in parts of Kansas.

1937 was another year of

unprecedented dirt storms.

Day after day, Dust Bowl

farmers unwillingly traded

farms as the land moved back

and forth between Texas and


1938 was the year of the

"snuster". The snuster was a

mixture of dirt and snow

Reaching blizzard proportions.”

how did the people cope with the conditions
How did the people cope with the conditions?

“When the wind blew in the dust bowl, something as ordinary as

breathing became a challenge. . .it (dust) would just coat the inside of

your nose literally. And sometimes your mouth would just get cottony

dry because . . .you spit out dirt. . .It looked like tobacco juice. . .But

just thought that was part of livin.’ ”


“The blowing dirt made daily

routines burdensome and

depressing. Whether one was

trying to keep house, run a

small business, go to school,

or go to church, the impact of

The dust was serious.”

“Everything that had a

surface became dusty.

Clothes hanging on the line to

dry ended up stiff with dirt.

Families went to sleep on

clean sheets and pillowcases

and awoke to find everything

dirty but the spots where they

had lain.”


Many chose to leave, abandoning their homes and history to seek a new life in California and other west coast states, lured by the opportunity for work.

Many of the migrants struggled to reach their destinations and met obstacles along the way. The experiences of these “Okies” and “Arkies” became the basis for John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

A return of more abundant rainfall beginning in 1938 and a focus on the nation’s needs during World War II helped bring the region out of its crisis.

“The Dust Bowl taught farmers new farming methods and techniques. The 1930's fostered a whole new era of soil conservation. Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned form the Dust Bowl - take care of the land.”


The Soil Conservation Service (SCS)—now

The Natural Resources Conservation Service

began to stress soil conservation

measures. 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, contour plowing, conservation

tillage and the reintroduction of windbreaks.


Wind Break or Shelter Belt

Contour Plowing