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The Dust Bowl was a period of severe
dust storm A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development Deve ...

dust storm
s that greatly damaged the ecology and
agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of , whereby farming of species created food that enabled people to live in cities. The began thousands of ...

agriculture
of the American and Canadian
prairie Wheatfield intersection in the Southern Saskatchewan prairies, Canada. Prairies are ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interact ...
s during the 1930s; severe
drought A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences Atmospheric science is the study of the Earth's atm ...

drought
and a failure to apply
dryland farming Dryland farming in the Granada region of Spain Dryland farming and dry farming encompass specific agricultural Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in th ...
methods to prevent the
aeolian processes Aeolian or Eolian refers to things related to Aeolus In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, ori ...
(wind erosion) caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves: 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the High Plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. The Dust Bowl has been the subject of many cultural works, notably the novel ''
The Grapes of Wrath ''The Grapes of Wrath'' is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and o ...
'' (1939) by
John Steinbeck John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (; February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social ...

John Steinbeck
, the folk music of
Woody Guthrie Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (; July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter, who is considered to be one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His music, including songs such as " This Land Is Your Land" ...

Woody Guthrie
, and photographs depicting the conditions of migrants by
Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange (born Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn; May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Great Depression, Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration ...

Dorothea Lange
, particularly the ''''.


Geographic characteristics and early history

With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive
deep plowing Deep plowing is a plowing A plough or plow ( US; both ) is a farm tool for loosening or turning the soil before sowing Sowing is the process of planting. An area or object that has had seeds planted in it will be described as a sowed area ...
of the virgin
topsoil Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top . It has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms and is where most of the Earth's biology, biological soil activity occurs. Topsoil is composed of mineral partic ...
of the
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted
grass Poaceae () or Gramineae () is a large and nearly ubiquitous family In , family (from la, familia) is a of people related either by (by recognized birth) or (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of families is to maintain ...

grass
es that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of
drought A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences Atmospheric science is the study of the Earth's atm ...

drought
and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the
combine harvester The modern combine harvester, or simply combine, is a versatile machine designed to efficiently harvest a variety of grain crops. The name derives from its combining four separate harvesting operations—, , gathering, and —into a single process ...

combine harvester
contributed to farmers' decisions to convert arid grassland (much of which received no more than 10 inches (~250 mm) of precipitation per year) to cultivated cropland. During the drought of the 1930s, the unanchored soil turned to
dust Dust is made of s of solid . On Earth, it generally consists of particles in the that come from various sources such as lifted by wind (an ), , and . Dust in homes is composed of about 20–50% dead . The rest, and in offices, and other ...
, which the prevailing winds blew away in huge clouds that sometimes blackened the sky. These choking billows of dust – named "black blizzards" or "black rollers" – traveled cross country, reaching as far as the
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and striking such cities as
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
and
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscaped ...
On the plains, they often reduced visibility to or less.
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Associated Press
reporter Robert E. Geiger happened to be in
Boise City, Oklahoma Boise City is a city in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or Parish (administrative division), civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Hungary and th ...
, to witness the " Black Sunday" black blizzards of April 14, 1935; Edward Stanley, the Kansas City news editor of the Associated Press, coined the term "Dust Bowl" while rewriting Geiger's news story. While the term "the Dust Bowl" was originally a reference to the geographical area affected by the dust, today it usually refers to the event itself (the term "Dirty Thirties" is also sometimes used). The drought and erosion of the Dust Bowl affected that centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The Dust Bowl forced tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families, who were unable to pay mortgages or grow crops, to abandon their farms, and losses reached $25 million per day by 1936 (). Many of these families, who were often known as "
Okie "Okie", in the most general sense, refers to a resident, native, or cultural descendant of Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published ...

Okie
s" because so many of them came from Oklahoma, migrated to
California California is a U.S. state, state in the Western United States. With over 39.3million residents across a total area of approximately , it is the List of states and territories of the United States by population, most populous and the List of ...

California
and other states to find that the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
had rendered economic conditions there little better than those they had left. The Dust Bowl area lies principally west of the 100th meridian on the High Plains, characterized by plains which vary from rolling in the north to flat in the
Llano Estacado The Llano Estacado (), commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, t ...
. Elevation ranges from in the east to at the base of the
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Rocky Mountains
. The area is
semiarid A semi-arid climate, semi-desert climate, or steppe climate is the climate Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables ove ...
, receiving less than of rain annually; this rainfall supports the
shortgrass prairie The shortgrass prairie is an ecosystem located in the Great Plains of North America. The two most dominant grasses in the shortgrass prairie are blue grama (''Bouteloua gracilis'') and buffalograss (''Bouteloua dactyloides''), the two less dominan ...
biome originally present in the area. The region is also prone to extended drought, alternating with unusual wetness of equivalent duration. During wet years, the rich soil provides bountiful agricultural output, but crops fail during dry years. The region is also subject to high winds. During early European and American exploration of the
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
, this region was thought unsuitable for European-style agriculture; explorers called it the
Great American Desert The term Great American Desert was used in the 19th century to describe the western part of the Great Plains The Great Plains, sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of flat land (a plain), much of it covered in prairie, steppe ...
. The lack of surface water and timber made the region less attractive than other areas for
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and agriculture. The federal government encouraged settlement and development of the Plains for agriculture via the
Homestead Act of 1862 The Homestead Acts were several laws in the United States by which an applicant could acquire ownership of government land or the public domain, typically called a Homestead (buildings), homestead. In all, more than of public land, or nearly ...
, offering settlers ”quarter section” plots. With the end of the
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in 1865 and the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, waves of new migrants and immigrants reached the Great Plains, and they greatly increased the acreage under cultivation. An unusually wet period in the Great Plains mistakenly led settlers and the federal government to believe that " rain follows the plow" (a popular phrase among real estate promoters) and that the climate of the region had changed permanently. While initial agricultural endeavors were primarily
cattle ranch A ranch (from es, rancho) is an area of land Land is the solid surface of the Earth that is not permanently covered by water. The vast majority of human activity throughout history has occurred in land areas that support agriculture ...
ing, the adverse effect of harsh winters on the cattle, beginning in 1886, a short drought in 1890, and general
overgrazing Overgrazing occurs when plants are exposed to intensive grazing In agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentism, sedentary huma ...

overgrazing
, led many landowners to increase the amount of land under cultivation. Recognizing the challenge of cultivating marginal arid land, the United States government expanded on the offered under the Homestead Act – granting to homesteaders in western Nebraska under the
Kinkaid Act Western Nebraska counties to which the Kinkaid Act applied. The Kinkaid Act of 1904 (ch. 1801, , Apr. 28, 1904, ) is a U.S. statuteA statute reffers to the body of law that are made by legislature of the nation with instrument which govern the stat ...
(1904) and elsewhere in the Great Plains under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909. Waves of European settlers arrived in the plains at the beginning of the 20th century. A return of unusually wet weather seemingly confirmed a previously held opinion that the "formerly" semiarid area could support large-scale agriculture. At the same time, technological improvements such as mechanized plowing and mechanized harvesting made it possible to operate larger properties without increasing labor costs. The combined effects of the disruption of the
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Russian Revolution
, which decreased the supply of wheat and other commodity crops, and
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World War I
increased agricultural prices; this demand encouraged farmers to dramatically increase cultivation. For example, in the
Llano Estacado The Llano Estacado (), commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, t ...
of
eastern New Mexico Eastern New Mexico is a physiographic subregion within the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primari ...
and northwestern
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambigu ...

Texas
, the area of farmland was doubled between 1900 and 1920, then tripled again between 1925 and 1930. The agricultural methods favored by farmers during this period created the conditions for large-scale
erosion In earth science Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific ...

erosion
under certain environmental conditions. The widespread conversion of the land by deep plowing and other soil preparation methods to enable agriculture eliminated the native grasses which held the soil in place and helped retain moisture during dry periods. Furthermore,
cotton Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber Fiber or fibre (from la, fibra, links=no) is a natural Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, material world or universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of s ...

cotton
farmers left fields bare during winter months, when winds in the High Plains are highest, and
burned Burned or burnt may refer to: * Anything which has undergone combustion * Burned (image), quality of an image transformed with loss of detail in all portions lighter than some limit, and/or those darker than some limit * Burnt (film), ''Burnt'' (fi ...
the stubble as a means to control weeds prior to planting, thereby depriving the soil of organic nutrients and surface vegetation.


Drought and dust storms

After fairly favorable climatic conditions in the 1920s with good rainfall and relatively moderate winters, which permitted increased settlement and cultivation in the Great Plains, the region entered an unusually dry era in the summer of 1930. During the next decade, the northern plains suffered four of their seven driest calendar years since 1895, Kansas four of its twelve driest, and the entire region south to West Texas lacked any period of above-normal rainfall until record rains hit in 1941. When severe
drought A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences Atmospheric science is the study of the Earth's atm ...

drought
struck the Great Plains region in the 1930s, it resulted in erosion and loss of topsoil because of farming practices at the time. The drought dried the topsoil and over time it became friable, reduced to a powdery consistency in some places. Without the indigenous grasses in place, the high winds that occur on the plains picked up the topsoil and created the massive
dust storm A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development Deve ...

dust storm
s that marked the Dust Bowl period. The persistent dry weather caused crops to fail, leaving the plowed fields exposed to wind erosion. The fine soil of the Great Plains was easily eroded and carried east by strong continental winds. On November 11, 1933, a very strong dust storm stripped
topsoil Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top . It has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms and is where most of the Earth's biology, biological soil activity occurs. Topsoil is composed of mineral partic ...
from desiccated
South Dakota South Dakota () (Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dakot ...

South Dakota
farmlands in one of a series of severe dust storms that year. Beginning on May 9, 1934, a strong, two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
topsoil in one of the worst such storms of the Dust Bowl. The dust clouds blew all the way to
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
, where they deposited 12 million pounds of dust (~ 5500 tonnes). Two days later, the same storm reached cities to the east, such as
Cleveland Cleveland ( ), officially the City of Cleveland, is a city in the U.S. The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North ...

Cleveland
, ,
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Boston
,
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
, and
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscaped ...
That winter (1934–1935), red snow fell on
New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern United States (also referred to as the American Northeast, the Northeast, and the East Coast) is a geographical region In geography ...

New England
. On April 14, 1935, known as " Black Sunday", 20 of the worst "black blizzards" occurred across the entire sweep of the Great Plains, from Canada south to Texas. The dust storms caused extensive damage and appeared to turn the day to night; witnesses reported that they could not see five feet in front of them at certain points. Denver-based
Associated Press The Associated Press (AP) is an American non-profit A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, publi ...

Associated Press
reporter Robert E. Geiger happened to be in
Boise City, Oklahoma Boise City is a city in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or Parish (administrative division), civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Hungary and th ...
, that day. His story about Black Sunday marked the first appearance of the term ''Dust Bowl''; it was coined by Edward Stanley,
Kansas City The Kansas City metropolitan area is a bi-state metropolitan area A metropolitan area or metro is a region consisting of a densely populated urban core Urban means "related to a city". In that sense, the term may refer to: * Urban area ...

Kansas City
news editor of the Associated Press, while rewriting Geiger's news story. Much of the farmland was eroded in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl. In 1941, a Kansas agricultural experiment station released a bulletin that suggested reestablishing native grasses by the "hay method". Developed in 1937 to speed up the process and increase returns from pasture, the "hay method" was originally supposed to occur in Kansas naturally over 25–40 years. After much data analysis, the causal mechanism for the droughts can be linked to ocean temperature anomalies. Specifically, Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures appear to have had an indirect effect on the general atmospheric circulation, while Pacific sea surface temperatures seem to have had the most direct influence.


Human displacement

This catastrophe intensified the economic impact of the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
in the region. In 1935, many families were forced to leave their farms and travel to other areas seeking work because of the drought (which at that time had already lasted four years). The abandonment of homesteads and financial ruin resulting from catastrophic topsoil loss led to widespread hunger and poverty. Dust Bowl conditions fomented an exodus of the displaced from
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambigu ...

Texas
,
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...

Oklahoma
, and the surrounding Great Plains to adjacent regions. More than 500,000 Americans were left homeless. More than 350 houses had to be torn down after one storm alone. The severe drought and dust storms had left many homeless; others had their mortgages foreclosed by banks, or felt they had no choice but to abandon their farms in search of work. Many Americans migrated west looking for work. Parents packed up " jalopies" with their families and a few personal belongings, and headed west in search of work. Some residents of the Plains, especially in
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
and Oklahoma, fell ill and died of dust pneumonia or
malnutrition Malnutrition is 'a state of nutrition in which a deficiency or excess (or imbalance) of energy, protein and other nutrients causes measurable adverse effect on tissue and body form (body shape, size and composition) and function and clinical ou ...
. Between 1930 and 1940, approximately 3.5 million people moved out of the Plains states. In just over a year, over 86,000 people migrated to
California California is a U.S. state, state in the Western United States. With over 39.3million residents across a total area of approximately , it is the List of states and territories of the United States by population, most populous and the List of ...

California
. This number is more than the number of migrants to that area during the 1849 gold rush. Migrants abandoned farms in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
, but were often generally referred to as "", "Arkies", or "Texies". Terms such as "Okies" and "Arkies" came to be known in the 1930s as the standard terms for those who had lost everything and were struggling the most during the Great Depression. However, not all migrants traveled long distances; most migrants participated in internal state migration moving from counties that the Dust Bowl highly impacted to other less affected counties. So many families left their farms and were on the move that the proportion between migrants and residents was nearly equal in the Great Plains states. An examination of
Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
statistics and other records, and a 1939 survey of occupation by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of about 116,000 families who arrived in California in the 1930s, showed that only 43 percent of Southwesterners were doing farm work immediately before they migrated. Nearly one-third of all migrants were professional or white-collar workers. Specifically for farmers, while some of them had to take on unskilled labor when they moved, leaving the farming sector commonly led to greater social mobility in the future as there was a far greater likelihood that migrant farmers would later go into semi-skilled or high-skilled fields which paid better. Non-farmers experienced more downward occupational moves than farmers, but in most cases they were not significant enough to bring them into poverty, because high-skilled migrants were most likely to experience a downward shift into semi-skilled work. While semi-skilled work did not pay as well as high-skilled work, most of these workers were not impoverished. For the most part, by the end of the Dust Bowl the migrants generally were better off than those who chose to stay behind according to their occupational changes. After the Great Depression ended, some migrants moved back to their original states. Many others remained where they had resettled. About one-eighth of California's population is of Okie heritage.


Government response

The greatly expanded participation of government in land management and soil conservation was an important outcome from the disaster. Different groups took many different approaches to responding to the disaster. To identify areas that needed attention, groups such as the
Soil Conservation Service Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners an ...
generated detailed soil maps and took photos of the land from the sky. To create shelterbelts to reduce soil erosion, groups such as the United States Forestry Service's Prairie States Forestry Project planted trees on private lands. Finally, groups like the
Resettlement Administration The Resettlement Administration (RA) was a New Deal The New Deal was a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States The United States of ...
, which later became the
Farm Security Administration The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States File:Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg, Dorothea Lange's 1936 photo ''Migrant Mother'' is one of the mos ...
, encouraged small farm owners to resettle on other lands, if they lived in drier parts of the Plains. During President
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the De ...

Franklin D. Roosevelt
's first 100 days in office in 1933, his administration quickly initiated programs to conserve soil and restore the ecological balance of the nation. Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes established the Soil Erosion Service in August 1933 under Hugh Hammond Bennett. In 1935, it was transferred and reorganized under the Department of Agriculture and renamed the Soil Conservation Service. It is now known as the
Natural Resources Conservation Service Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), also known as the Agricultu ...
(NRCS). As part of
New Deal The New Deal was a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations Regulation is the management of complex systems according to a set of rules and trends. In systems theory Systems theory is the interdisciplinar ...
programs, Congress passed the
Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act , enacted February 29, 1936) is a United States federal law that allowed the government to pay farmers to reduce production so as to conserve soil and prevent erosion. Legislative history The Act w ...
in 1936, requiring landowners to share the allocated government subsidies with the laborers who worked on their farms. Under the law, "benefit payments were continued as measures for production control and income support, but they were now financed by direct Congressional appropriations and justified as soil conservation measures. The Act shifted the parity goal from price equality of agricultural commodities and the articles that farmers buy to income equality of farm and non-farm population." Thus, the parity goal was to re-create the ratio between the purchasing power of the net income per person on farms from agriculture and that of the income of persons not on farms that prevailed during 1909–1914. To stabilize prices, the government paid farmers and ordered more than six million pigs to be slaughtered, as part of the
Agricultural Adjustment Act The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was a United States federal law of the New Deal era designed to boost agricultural prices by reducing surpluses. The government bought livestock for slaughter and paid farmers Subsidy, subsidies not to plant o ...
(AAA). It paid to have the meat packed and distributed to the poor and hungry. The
Federal Surplus Relief Corporation The Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation was one of the so-called alphabet agencies set up in the United States during the 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Created in 1933 as the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, i ...
(FSRC) was established to regulate crop and other surpluses. FDR in an address on May 14, 1935, to the AAA commented,
Let me make one other point clear for the benefit of the millions in cities who have to buy meats. Last year the Nation suffered a drought of unparalleled intensity. If there had been no Government program, if the old order had obtained in 1933 and 1934, that drought on the cattle ranges of America and in the corn belt would have resulted in the marketing of thin cattle, immature hogs and the death of these animals on the range and on the farm, and if the old order had been in effect those years, we would have had a vastly greater shortage than we face today. Our program – we can prove it – saved the lives of millions of head of livestock. They are still on the range, and other millions of heads are today canned and ready for this country to eat.
The FSRC diverted agricultural commodities to relief organizations. Apples, beans, canned beef, flour and pork products were distributed through local relief channels. Cotton goods were later included, to clothe needy. In 1935, the federal government formed a Drought Relief Service (DRS) to coordinate relief activities. The DRS bought cattle in counties which were designated emergency areas, for $14 to $20 a head. Animals determined unfit for human consumption were killed; at the beginning of the program, more than 50 percent were so designated in emergency areas. The DRS assigned the remaining cattle to the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) to be used in food distribution to families nationwide. Although it was difficult for farmers to give up their herds, the cattle slaughter program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. "The government cattle buying program was a blessing to many farmers, as they could not afford to keep their cattle, and the government paid a better price than they could obtain in local markets." President Roosevelt ordered the
Civilian Conservation Corps The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a voluntary public work relief program Unemployment, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), is persons above a specified age (usually 15) not being in paid em ...

Civilian Conservation Corps
to plant the
Great Plains Shelterbelt The Great Plains Shelterbelt was a project to create windbreaks in the Great Plains states of the United States, that began in 1934. President of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the project in response to the severe dus ...
, a huge belt of more than 200 million trees from Canada to
Abilene, Texas Abilene ( ) is a city in Taylor Taylor, Taylors or Taylor's may refer to: People * Taylor (surname) Taylor is a surname used in the British Isles of French name, French origin which came from the Normans, Norman occupational surname (meaning ...
to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began to educate farmers on
soil conservation Soil conservation is the prevention of loss of the top most layer of the soil from erosion In , erosion is the action of surface processes (such as or ) that removes , , or dissolved material from one location on the , and then it to anoth ...
and anti-erosion techniques, including crop rotation,
strip farming 260px, Strip farming in Wisconsin, 1957 Strip cropping is a method of agriculture, farming which involves cultivating a field partitioned into long, narrow strips which are alternated in a crop rotation system. It is used when a slope is too steep ...
, , terracing, and other improved farming practices. In 1937, the federal government began an aggressive campaign to encourage farmers in the Dust Bowl to adopt planting and plowing methods that conserved the soil. The government paid reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to practice the new methods. By 1938, the massive conservation effort had reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65%. The land still failed to yield a decent living. In the fall of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought ended when regular rainfall finally returned to the region. The government still encouraged continuing the use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains. At the end of the drought, the programs which were implemented during these tough times helped to sustain a positive relationship between America's farmers and the federal government. The President's Drought Committee issued a report in 1935 covering the government's assistance to agriculture during 1934 through mid-1935: it discussed conditions, measures of relief, organization, finances, operations, and results of the government's assistance. Numerous exhibits are included in this report.


Long-term economic impact

In many regions, more than 75% of the topsoil was blown away by the end of the 1930s.
Land degradation Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment A biophysical environment is a life, biotic and Abiotic component, abiotic surrounding of an organism or population, and consequently includes the factors that ...
varied widely. Aside from the short-term economic consequences caused by erosion, there were severe long-term economic consequences caused by the Dust Bowl. By 1940, counties that had experienced the most significant levels of erosion had a greater decline in agricultural land values. The per-acre value of farmland declined by 28% in high-erosion counties and 17% in medium-erosion counties, relative to land value changes in low-erosion counties. Even over the long-term, the agricultural value of the land often failed to recover to pre-Dust Bowl levels. In highly eroded areas, less than 25% of the original agricultural losses were recovered. The economy adjusted predominantly through large relative population declines in more-eroded counties, both during the 1930s and through the 1950s. The economic effects persisted, in part, because of farmers' failure to switch to more appropriate crops for highly eroded areas. Because the amount of topsoil had been reduced, it would have been more productive to shift from crops and wheat to animals and hay. During the Depression and through at least the 1950s, there was limited relative adjustment of farmland away from activities that became less productive in more-eroded counties. Some of the failure to shift to more productive agricultural products may be related to ignorance about the benefits of changing land use. A second explanation is a lack of availability of credit, caused by the high rate of failure of banks in the Plains states. Because banks failed in the Dust Bowl region at a higher rate than elsewhere, farmers could not get the credit they needed to obtain capital to shift crop production. In addition, profit margins in either animals or hay were still minimal, and farmers had little incentive in the beginning to change their crops.
Patrick Allitt Patrick N. Allitt (born 1956) is a British historian and academic who serves as the Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University. He has written seven books on religious history, education, politics and environmental history, ...
recounts how fellow historian
Donald Worster Donald Worster (born 1941) is an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the ...
responded to his return visit to the Dust Bowl in the mid-1970s when he revisited some of the worst afflicted counties: :Capital-intensive agribusiness had transformed the scene; deep wells into the aquifer, intensive irrigation, the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers, and giant harvesters were creating immense crops year after year whether it rained or not. According to the farmers he interviewed, technology had provided the perfect answer to old troubles, such of the bad days would not return. In Worster's view, by contrast, the scene demonstrated that America's capitalist high-tech farmers had learned nothing. They were continuing to work in an unsustainable way, devoting far cheaper subsidized energy to growing food than the energy could give back to its ultimate consumers. In contrast with Worster's pessimism, historian Mathew Bonnifield argued that the long-term significance of the Dust Bowl was "the triumph of the human spirit in its capacity to endure and overcome hardships and reverses."


Influence on the arts and culture

The crisis was documented by photographers, musicians, and authors, many hired during the Great Depression by the federal government. For instance, the
Farm Security Administration The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States File:Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg, Dorothea Lange's 1936 photo ''Migrant Mother'' is one of the mos ...
hired numerous photographers to document the crisis. Artists such as
Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange (born Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn; May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Great Depression, Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration ...

Dorothea Lange
were aided by having salaried work during the Depression. She captured what have become classic images of the dust storms and migrant families. Among her most well-known photographs is ''Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children'', which depicted a gaunt-looking woman, Florence Owens Thompson, holding three of her children. This picture expressed the struggles of people caught by the Dust Bowl and raised awareness in other parts of the country of its reach and human cost. Decades later, Thompson disliked the boundless circulation of the photo and resented the fact she did not receive any money from its broadcast. Thompson felt it gave her the perception as a Dust Bowl "Okie." The work of independent artists was also influenced by the crises of the Dust Bowl and the Depression. Author
John Steinbeck John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (; February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social ...

John Steinbeck
, borrowing closely from field notes taken by
Farm Security Administration The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States File:Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg, Dorothea Lange's 1936 photo ''Migrant Mother'' is one of the mos ...
worker and author
Sanora Babb Sanora Babb (April 21, 1907 – December 31, 2005) was an American novelist, poet, and literary editor. Early life and career Sanora Babb was born in Otoe people, Otoe territory in what is now Oklahoma, though neither her mother nor father were ...
, wrote ''
The Grapes of Wrath ''The Grapes of Wrath'' is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and o ...
'' (1939) about migrant workers and farm families displaced by the Dust Bowl. Babb's own novel about the lives of the migrant workers, ''Whose Names Are Unknown'', was written in 1939 but was eclipsed and shelved in response to the success of Steinbeck's work, and was finally published in 2004. Many of the songs of folk singer
Woody Guthrie Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (; July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter, who is considered to be one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His music, including songs such as " This Land Is Your Land" ...

Woody Guthrie
, such as those on his 1940 album ''
Dust Bowl Ballads ''Dust Bowl Ballads'' is an album packaged in book form, like a photograph album An album is a collection of audio recordings issued as a collection on compact disc (CD), Phonograph record, vinyl, audio tape, or another medium. Albums of ...
'', are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression when he traveled with displaced farmers from Oklahoma to California and learned their traditional folk and blues songs, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour". Migrants also influenced musical culture wherever they went. Oklahoma migrants, in particular, were rural Southwesterners who carried their traditional country music to California. Today, the "
Bakersfield Sound The Bakersfield sound is a sub-genre Genre () is any form or type of communication in any mode (written, spoken, digital, artistic, etc.) with socially-agreed-upon conventions developed over time. In popular usage, it normally describes a Categor ...
" describes this blend, which developed after the migrants brought country music to the city. Their new music inspired a proliferation of country dance halls as far south as Los Angeles. The 2014 science fiction film ''
Interstellar Interstellar or Interstella may refer to: Space * Interstellar space ** Interstellar medium * Interstellar travel * Interstellar communication * Interstellar probe Art, entertainment, and media Films and soundtracks * ''Interstella 5555: The 5tor ...
'' features a ravaged 21st-century America which is again scoured by dust storms (caused by a worldwide pathogen affecting all crops). Along with inspiration from the 1930s crisis, director
Christopher Nolan Christopher Edward Nolan (; born 30 July 1970) is a British-American film director, producer, and screenwriter. His films have grossed more than US$5billion worldwide, and have garnered 11 Academy Awards The Academy Awards, popularly ...
features interviews from the 2012 documentary '' The Dust Bowl'' to draw further parallels. In 2017, Americana recording artist released the album '' Dust Bowl – American Stories'', which was inspired by the history of the Dust Bowl. In a review, the music magazine ''No Depression (magazine), No Depression'' wrote that the album's lyrics and music are "as potent as
Woody Guthrie Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (; July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter, who is considered to be one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His music, including songs such as " This Land Is Your Land" ...

Woody Guthrie
, as intense as John Trudell and dusted with the trials and tribulations of Tom Joad – Steinbeck and ''
The Grapes of Wrath ''The Grapes of Wrath'' is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and o ...
''."


Changes in agriculture and population on the Plains

Agricultural land and revenue boomed during World War I, but fell during the Great Depression and the 1930s. The agricultural land that was worst affected by the Dust Bowl was of land by the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. These twenty counties that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service identified as the worst wind-eroded region were home to the majority of the Great Plains migrants during the Dust Bowl. While migration from and between the Southern Great Plain States was greater than migration in other regions in the 1930s, the numbers of migrants from these areas had only slightly increased from the 1920s. Thus, the Dust Bowl and Great Depression did not trigger a mass exodus of southern migrants, it simply encouraged these migrants to keep moving where in other areas the Great Depression limited mobility due to economic issues, decreasing migration. While the population of the Great Plains did fall during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, the drop was not caused by extreme numbers of migrants leaving the Great Plains but because of a lack of migrants moving from outside of the Great Plains into the region.


See also

*1936 North American heat wave *Desertification *Goyder's Line – semiarid area of Australia *Global warming *List of environmental disasters *Monoculture *Ogallala Aquifer *Palliser's Triangle – semiarid area of Canada *Semi-arid climate *Tragedy of the commons *U.S. Route 66 – notable Dust Bowl migration route to California *Navajo Livestock Reduction – simultaneous program to prevent overgrazing and erosion


References


Bibliography

* Bonnifield, Mathew Paul. (1979) ''Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt and Depression'' * Cunfer, Geoff. (2008
"Scaling the Dust Bowl"
, ''Placing history: How maps, spatial data, and GIS are changing historical scholarship'', ESRI Press, Redlands. * Gregory, James Noble. ''American exodus: The dust bowl migration and Okie culture in California'' (Oxford University Press, 1989) * Lassieur, Allison. (2009)
The Dust Bowl: An Interactive History Adventure
'' Capstone Press, * Reis, Ronald A. (2008)
The Dust Bowl
'' Chelsea House * Sylvester, Kenneth M., and Eric S. A. Rupley, "Revising the Dust Bowl: High above the Kansas Grassland", ''Environmental History'', 17 (July 2012), 603–33. * Worster, Donald 2004 (1979)
Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s
'' (25. anniversary ed) Oxford University Press. * Woody Guthrie, (1963) ''The (Nearly) Complete Collection of Woody Guthrie Folk Songs'', Ludlow Music, New York. * Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, (1967) ''Hard-Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People'', Oak Publications, New York. * Timothy Egan (2006)
The Worst Hard Time
'', Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, hardcover. . * Katelan Janke, (1935) ''Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas'', Scholastic (September 2002). . * Karen Hesse (paperback January 1999) ''Out of the Dust'', Scholastic Signature. New York First Edition, 1997, hardcover. . * Sanora Babb (2004)
Whose Names Are Unknown
'', University of Oklahoma Press, . * Sweeney, Kevin Z. (2016). ''Prelude to the Dust Bowl: Drought in the Nineteenth-Century Southern Plains'' Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.


Documentary films

* 1936 – ''The Plow That Broke the Plains'' – 25 minutes, directed by Pare Lorentz * 1998 – ''American Experience (season 10), Surviving the Dust Bowl'' – 52 minutes, season 10 episode of American Experience documentary tv series * 2012 – '' The Dust Bowl'' – 240 minutes, 4 episodes, directed by Ken Burns


External links

*
''The Dust Bowl'' photo collection

"The Dust Bowl"
a PBS television series by filmmaker Ken Burns
The Dust Bowl
(EH.Net Encyclopedia)




Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940–1941
Library of Congress, American Folklife Center Online collection of archival sound recordings, photographs, and manuscripts
Farming in the 1930s
(Wessels Living History Farm)
Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Dust Bowl

Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry: Oklahoma Women in the Dust Bowl Oral History Project
Oklahoma Oral History Research Program
Voices of Oklahoma interview with Frosty Troy.
First person interview conducted on November 30, 2011 with Frosty Troy talking about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Original audio and transcript archived wit
Voices of Oklahoma oral history project.
* * {{Authority control Dust Bowl, Great Plains Great Depression in the United States Internal migrations in the United States History of agriculture in the United States History of the American West Environmental disasters in the United States Soil in the United States Droughts in the United States Agriculture in the United States Agriculture in Oklahoma Agriculture in Texas Agriculture in Kansas Agriculture in Canada 20th-century droughts 1930s natural disasters in the United States Natural disasters in Oklahoma 1930s droughts