Eighty years ago this week, the dust storm of the century


  • History Colorado
Yesterday, History Colorado sent a presser looking back on one of the worst dust storms (or "dusters") in history. It happened 80 years ago yesterday, and was the weather event that triggered the very name Dust Bowl.

On April 14, 1935, a blue sky morning suddenly turned cold, and black clouds swept down over multiple states, including Colorado's Baca County, which was already struggling. According to History Colorado: "At that time, Baca County had 237,000 acres under wheat production. By 1936 the number had fallen dramatically to 150 acres." You can see the way the storm formed via NOAA here.

Dusters, per the most-excellent The Worst Hard Time, were extremely dangerous. Those caught in them could suffocate without shelter. Visibility was nil. Strong winds came with their own hazards, beyond pushing dust deep into lungs and eyes. Static electricity built into volatile forces that would electrocute people. Then of course, it hampered any kind of farming or ranching, which was already in dire need of help from a terrible drought. Dusters happened throughout the years of 1934-1941, with this particular beast being one of the most severe.

The worst of the Dust Bowl settled in the corners of southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and the northeast corner of New Mexico. (A family member of mine, from Clayton, N.M., remembers the black clouds of those days.)

Though partially instigated by drought, the Dust Bowl was largely human-caused. Farming practices, sprawling cattle ranches and bills such as the 1862 Homestead Act meant decades of massive abuse of the prairie topsoil. The grasses that held it down and nourished it were plowed away or ripped up by grazing. By the 1930s, the dried out, exposed topsoil that spanned thousands of square miles literally dried up and blew away.

Read the whole release below:
Eighty Years Ago This Week Dust Bowl Storm Wreaks Havoc on Colorado Plains

DENVER - April 14, 2015, The morning of Sunday, April 14, 1935 started out with sunshine and blue skies, but by the afternoon the temperature had dropped and an ominous black cloud was quickly approaching. This day would soon become known as Black Sunday because of the widespread blackout conditions created from all the winds and dust. Gale-like winds swept across seven different states causing one of the biggest storms during the Dust Bowl.

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any American to claim 160 free acres as long as it was farmed for five years. This created a surge in agricultural production generating more crops and fueling the economy. During the 1880’s Baca County, in southeastern Colorado, promised great prosperity. But, the dry climate and isolation caused fluctuations in population.It wasn’t until the invention of the plow and tractor in the 1910s that another boom took place. Traditional natural grasses that had kept the dry soil in place were being plowed for farming. This transition of grassy land to farm fields took place across the U.S. causing the typically dry Western Plains to be exposed to weather elements in ways they hadn’t been before. In the 1930s drought combined with high winds, created catastrophic storms.

At that time, Baca County had 237,000 acres under wheat production. By 1936 the number had fallen dramatically to 150 acres. The storms had devastated so much land that the government stepped in. With the passing of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 which educated farmers on better farming practices, along with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), to help end the overproduction of farmed foods, change slowly began to take root.

Between 1934 - 1941, hundreds of dust storms blew the dried out and plowed up topsoil of the plains lands all the way to the East Coast. These “black blizzards” have become synonymous with the image of the Dust Bowl and even of the Great Depression, itself. But the storm on April 14, 80 years ago this week, still ranks as one of the most severe storms and triggered the moniker “Dust Bowl.”

The disasters of the Dust Bowl, and the massive storm on Black Sunday, stand as an example to not ignore ecological limits of our land. Preserving soil is imperative, especially as the impending drought season encroaches. To experience what Black Sunday was really like, visit the award-winning Black Sunday Object Theater in the Living West Exhibit at the History Colorado Center to experience Black Sunday.

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