Man Made Disasters Part 2 The Dust BowlThe Dust Bowl, also referred to as the Dirty Thirties, was primarily created by man with a little help from mother nature, from 1930 to 1936 and until 1940 in some areas. After several periods of unusual rainfalls, which encouraged settlement and cultivation in the Great Plains, a severe drought started, causing crops to fail, leaving plowed fields open to wind erosion by the strong easterly continental winds. During the period of drought, severe storms were created from the wind erosion. On November 11, 1030, a strong Dust Storm stripped the topsoil from South Dakota farmlands. On May 9, 1934, a strong 2 day dust storm removed massive amounts of the topsoil from the Great Plains in what was one of the worst dust storms of the bowl. The dust clouds from this dust storm carried the dirt all the way to Chicago where dirt was falling like snow. That same storm also reached the eastern seaboard 2 days later, and that very winter of 1934-1935, New England experienced red snow falling. In 1935, on April 14, twenty of the worst ‘Black Blizzards’ occurred throughout the bowl, earning the nickname ‘Black Sunday’, and caused major damage. The nickname Black Sunday was with good reason, as it turned day into night, with many witnesses reporting that they couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of them, giving true meaning to the Black Blizzards expression.
The causes of the this disaster were primarily due to the fact that it was once known as the Great American Desert. There was a lack of surface water and timber available, and made the region less attractive to pioneer settlement and agricultural endeavors. Following the Civil War, settlements in the area increased, being encouraged by the Homestead Act, new transcontinental Railroads, and new immigrants. Another major influence to the creation of the Dust Bowl was occasional periods of untypical wet weather, which mistakenly led the settlers and government officials to the belief that rain follows the plow, also a popular phrase amongst real estate developers. This false impression of the area led to the belief that the area could support large scale agricultural endeavors leading to one of America’s most preventable disasters. This agricultural growth was a primary factor in the creation and duration of the regions worst man made disasters, the bowl. The farmland was farmed without crop rotation practices, there were fallow fields, and no cover crops or other erosion preventing techniques were used. The plowing of the minimal topsoil of the region displaced the naturally covering grasses that kept the soil in place and trapped the limited amount of moisture the region normally received throughout the year. These natural land coverings normally kept the soil and moisture in place even during periods of drought and high winds, which are commonplace to the region.
The bowl affected more than 100 million acres, and was centered over the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, with neighboring parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The millions of acres of course were rendered useless during the period, and sent hundreds of thousands of “Okies” to migrate to other states, many of which fled to California. The government intervened and created governmental programs designed to conserve soil and restore the ecological balance for the nation. President Roosevelt ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant a massive belt of more than 200 million trees stretching from Canada all the way south to Abilene, Texas designed to be a barrier to the plains winds, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil in place. The government also created programs to educate farmers on soil conservation and anti-erosion techniques, which included crop rotation, strip farming, contour plowing, terracing, and other more ecological farming practices. In 1937, a plan to persuade reluctant Dust Bowl farmers, encouraged by a dollar an acre payment from a government campaign to adopt planting and plowing methods designed to conserve soil was implemented. By 1938, the massive campaign effort reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65 percent, but was too late, as the land was already devastated and the lands failed to produce a decent living. In 1939, normal rains returned to the area, ending the almost decade long drought to the Dust Bowl region.
To read more man made disasters, here is the link to part 1: Man Made Disasters List Part 1 and Mountaintop Removal Mining Man Made Disasters Causes and Effects Part 3.