When and Where Was the Dust Bowl?
There are several different opinions as to what actually constitutes the “dust bowl" era. Some people choose to use the date of the first sand storm (1931) as the start date while others use the first year of the drought (1930) and still others confine it to the actual drought years of 1934, 1936, 1939 and 1940. The U.S. Department of Agriculture starts the timeline for the dust bowl in 1930 and ends it in 1940 so this will be our definitive choice.
Dust Bowl Timeline
1931 – The first of several years of severe drought hits the wheat fields of the Great Plains. Dust storms rage stripping the topsoil from farms and destroying crops.
1932 – 14 dust storms are reported this year. The rain is sparse and doesn’t support crop growth.
1933 – Franklin Roosevelt takes office. One of his first acts is to work on the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 to stabilize the banking industry. The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and Farm Credit Act of 1933 help thousands of farmers keep their farms out of foreclosure.
1934 – 75% of the country sees the effects of dust storms with severe storms dropping red snow on New England. The Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act and Taylor Grazing Act become cornerstones of the “New Deal" that keeps farmers afloat and adds feeding areas for livestock.
1935 – The Drought Relief Service (DRS) is established and one of their first acts is to buy cattle from farmers at $14-$20 a head (about 50% above market price). The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act is approved. This Act allows the creation of the Works Progress Administration that results in the employment of 8.5 million displaced workers. Farmers begin to be paid to practice soil-conserving farming techniques. This year also sees the worst dust storms ever on April 14th (Black Sunday).
1936 – The civil liberty union sues Los Angeles for sending 125 police officers to the Arizona and Oregon borders to keep “undesirables" out of the city.
1937 – FDR advocates the “ShelterBelt" program to plant a one hundred mile wide belt of trees from the Canadian border to Texas to keep the soil from erosion. Funding was an issue and this project showed limited success.
1938 – The efforts to rehabilitate the soil in the dust bowl region start to show promise as 65% less dust storm activity is recorded.
1939 – This is the last year of the drought and with the new farming methods and introduction of native trees, farming begins to come back into its own.
The dust bowl region consisted mainly of the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, central and western Kansas and eastern Colorado, although the drought was felt from Saskatchewan all the way to southern Texas. These areas were hit so hard by the drought and dust storms that often entire towns were wiped out in a matter of hours. Those that were not entirely destroyed were waylaid beneath feet of displaced topsoil.