Drought was nothing new to the farmers of western Kansas. Since their fathers and grandfathers had settled there in the 1870s, there had been dry periods interspersed with times of sufficient rainfall. But the drought that descended on the Central Plains in 1931 was more severe than most could remember.
Many factors led to the Dust Bowl. The increased demand for wheat during World War I, the development of new mechanized farm machinery along with falling wheat prices in the 1920s, led to millions of acres of native grassland being replaced by heavily disked fields of straight row crops. Four years of drought shriveled the crops and left the loose top soil to the mercy of the ever-present winds.
On Sunday, April 14, 1935, called Black Sunday, a massive front moved across the Great Plains from the northwest. Packing winds of 60 miles per hour, the loose topsoil was scooped up and mounded into billowing clouds of dust hundreds of feet high. People hurried home, for to be caught outside could mean suffocation and death. The dust and darkness halted all forms of transportation and the fine silt sifting through any crack or joint forced the closure of hospitals, flour mills, schools and businesses.
Some met this incredible hardship and gave up. Others stayed, living on hope, humor and stubbornness. Farmers listened to the advice of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and began strip farming and contour farming, restoring pastureland and planting hundreds of miles of wind breaks. With concerted effort and favorable weather conditions, the land was made to bloom again as the breadbasket of the nation.
Photographs and other items related to dust storms are available on Kansas Memory.
Entry: Dust Bowl
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2003
Date Modified: March 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.