Not long after the Great Mississippi Flood, farming contributed to yet another disaster: the Dust Bowl. As prolonged droughts met loose topsoil left unanchored by decades of erosive agricultural practices, storms of dust blew across the country during the 1930s as far away as Washington and New York.
The worst of the storms came on Black Sunday, April 14, 1935. In his book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, author Timothy Egan said “the storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon.”
The storms went on for a decade, destroying crops, ruining millions of acres of farmland and exacerbating the challenge of the Great Depression.
“The government reaction to this one was interesting because during the New Deal there was a real different approach, kind of a more activist approach to how the federal government should help,” Black said. The government sent scientists to the region to teach farmers better agricultural practices. “They also had the Civilian Conservation Corps come in and plant extensive lines of trees that created what are called shelter belts that helped to hold the soil in place afterwards.”
The federal Resettlement Administration was created in 1935 to help people leave their farms if they wanted to. By 1940, more than 2 million people had left the Plains states.