I was born in 1946, several years after the drought on the Great Plains of the US broke. Rain started falling again in 1939, putting the end of the “Dust Bowl” in sight. I had heard of the Great Depression era Dust Bowl that started in 1930 all my life. But I just connected the “dust” with how DRY the land was, where folks couldn’t grow crops. I knew that wind often blew the dust around, but I pictured in my mind’s eye just some swirls of dust.
It was only a few years ago that, for the first time, I saw a pic with one of these monster “rolling” dust clouds, as shown above, enveloping buildings and whole towns and cities. They could be more than a mile high, and up to 200 miles wide! It would be just like a mountain range rolling toward you! I was dumbfounded. To realize that they ravaged much of the country, sometimes all the way from just east of the Rockies to the East Coast, is mind-boggling. To realize that the conditions that ultimately led to them were in large measure “man-caused” is even more mind-boggling. I had always thought that the whole “Dust Bowl era” was just a “freak of nature.”
From Wiki article, Dust Bowl:
The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands in the 1930s. The phenomenon was caused by severe drought combined with a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent wind erosion.
Extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains in the preceding decade had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. Rapid mechanization of farm implements, especially small gasoline tractors and widespread use of the combine harvester, were significant in the 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, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away with the prevailing winds. At times, the clouds blackened the sky, reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C.. These immense dust storms – given names such as “black blizzards” and “black rollers” – often reduced visibility to a few feet (a meter) or less.
… beginning on May 9, 1934, a strong, two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of Great Plains topsoil in one of the worst such storms of the Dust Bowl. The dust clouds blew all the way to Chicago, where they deposited 12 million pounds of dust. Two days later, the same storm reached cities in the east, such as Buffalo, Boston, Cleveland, New York City, and Washington, D.C. That winter (1934–1935), red snow fell on New England.
FromWiki article, Black Sunday:
Black Sunday refers to a particularly severe dust storm that took place on April 14, 1935, as part of the Dust Bowl. It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense economic and agricultural damage.
…Musicians and songwriters began to reflect the Dust Bowl and the events of the 1930s in their music. Woody Guthrie, a singer/songwriter from Oklahoma, wrote a variety of songs documenting his experiences living during the era of dust storms. One of his songs, “Great Dust Storm”, describes the events of Black Sunday. An excerpt of the lyrics follows:
On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.
You could see that dust storm comin’, the cloud looked deathlike black,
And through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track.
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line,
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande,
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom.
Ken Burns did a major series on the Dust Bowl that first aired on PBS in 2012. It is now available for viewing on Youtube. Check out the five minute trailer for the series below, that has a number of film clips of what it was like during one of these storms, and some short interviews with survivors. If you find it of interest and would like to see the whole series, just type “Ken Burns dust bowl” in the search engine on Youtube.com