These stark, heart-wrenching Dust Bowl pictures reveal both the vast scope and intimate despair of this tragic time.
You’ll recognize the stare. You’ve likely seen it in Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo of a California migrant mother (see slide three above). And as you look through other Dust Bowl pictures, you’ll see that stare again and again.
It’s an ineffable look at once vacant and intent, stoic and poignant, broken and resolved — the quintessential thousand-yard stare.
And if any group should summon such a stare, it’s those who lived through the Dust Bowl, the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history.
Throughout most of the 1930s and into the early 1940s, the Dust Bowl turned much of what’s now known as the American heartland into a virtual wasteland.
For nearly a decade, approximately 100 million acres centered around the panhandles of both Oklahoma and Texas endured devastating drought made even more catastrophic by the harmful farming practices that had taken hold in the region the decade before.
Because the region’s arid grasslands received very little rainfall, its natural grasses played an essential part in both holding what little moisture there was in the soil and holding the soil itself down on the ground during periods of intense wind storms.
However, during the 1920s, farmers of the Great Plains had plowed away much of this grass in order to make room for crops, thus making this land even more sensitive to both drought and windstorms. And when both of those struck in the mid-1930s, the region’s fate was sealed.
The land turned desolate and the sky went dark as “black blizzards” (dust storms) flared up day in and day out. It was something like a biblical plague.
And thus it’s entirely fitting that it caused a tremendous exodus. Between 1930 and 1940, approximately 3.5 million desperately poor Americans abandoned their now barren farms in the Plains states and headed for greener pastures, largely in California.
However, while as much as 75 percent of the topsoil had blown away in the region these migrants abandoned, the Great Depression made it such that California’s pastures weren’t actually all that much greener.
Nevertheless, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt stepped in with a myriad of aid programs whose efforts ranged from planting trees to block wind and hold soil to distributing food to the hungry to teaching farmers dryland techniques to prevent an episode like this from ever happening again.
Thankfully, in the decades since, nothing quite like it ever has. But I think the extreme heat wave and the unprecedented droughts the West is facing yearly are another signs of worst time and things to come…
And while you prepare, I hope you enjoyed the heart-breaking images by Dorothea Lange and a few others that provide a different look at this one-of-a-kind US tragedy. [ATI]
Here some more articles about the dust bowl and the current dramatic drought and unprecedented heatwave along the Pacific NorthWest.
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