#4: The Dust Bowl

Erosion Caused by Wind

The Dust Bowl occurred in the middle region of the United States, including areas of Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl was the name given to a 10-year period of drought that occurred in the 1930s. During this time, many people suffered great hardships, and many died.

Map of the Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl happened because people came to the area known as the Great Plains and started plowing and farming the land. This land was not ideal for farming, but the settlers did not understand this. They did not know how to farm the plains and did not understand the effects farming could have on the land.

Before the Civil War, when settlers first passed through the Great Plains, the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains was dry. It did not seem worth staying there, as there was no gold to be found, and the land could not be farmed. These early settlers continued on to the west coast. On old maps, they called this area “The Great American Desert.”

Settlers began arriving again in the 1880s, after a period of exceptionally heavy rains. The plains were bursting with tall grass and appeared to be ideal for farming. Few people remembered how dry the plains had been just 20 years before.

People mistakenly believed that farming itself would cause more rain to fall. They also thought that building railroads and bringing in electric wires would cause more rain to fall by changing the natural electric cycles of the air. In the 1890s, there was a short drought, but soon the rains came again. It seemed like rain was normal and droughts were unusual.

In the 1930s, the drought returned, and it stayed for 10 years. The farmers had broken up the prairie soil and plowed under the native grasses. They then planted wheat. But the wheat could not survive in a drought like the grasses could. When the wheat died, its roots no longer held the soil in place. Farms turned into deserts covered with blowing sand. Huge dust storms whipped millions of tons of soil into the air. Dust storms blew soil from Kansas all the way to New York City.

[continued below the movies...]

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