In what came to be known as “Black Sunday,” one of the most devastating storms of the 1930s Dust Bowl era swept across the region on April 14, 1935. High winds kicked up clouds of millions of tons of dirt and dust so dense and dark that some eyewitnesses believed the world was coming to an end.
The term “dust bowl” was reportedly coined by a reporter in the mid-1930s and referred to the plains of western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and northeastern New Mexico. By the early 1930s, the grassy plains of this region had been over-plowed by farmers and overgrazed by cattle and sheep. The resulting soil erosion, combined with an eight-year drought which began in 1931, created a dire situation for farmers and ranchers. Crops and businesses failed and an increasing number of dust storms made people and animals sick. Many residents fled the region in search of work in other states such as California (as chronicled in books including John Steinbeck s The Grapes of Wrath), and those who remained behind struggled to support themselves.
By the mid-1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt s administration introduced programs to help alleviate the farming crisis. Among these initiatives was the establishment of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in the Department of Agriculture. The SCS promoted improved farming and land management techniques and farmers were paid to utilize these safer practices. For many Dust Bowl farmers, this federal aid was their only source of income at the time.
The Dust Bowl era finally came to a close when the rains arrived and the drought ended in 1939. Although drought would continue to be an inevitable part of life in the region, improved farming techniques significantly reduced the problem of soil erosion and prevented a repeat of the 1930s Dust Bowl devastation.