March 15, 2013
Long before the phrase “global warming” existed, long before anyone suggested that mankind’s activities could affect the natural order of things, there was a phenomenon called the Dust Bowl.
Reader Mike Bonatti wanted to know, “How close did the Dust Bowl come to Colorado Springs and El Paso County?”
Mike, here is a link http://www.maps.com/ref_map.aspx?pid=11667 to a map of the Dust Bowl. It shows Colorado Springs was not in the epicenter of the most seriously affected areas, but was on the fringe of it.
Southeastern Colorado — around Lamar in Prowers County — was hit by the Dust Bowl, which crippled Oklahoma, western Kansas and a huge swath of Texas.
Although Mike doesn’t need to be told what the Dust Bowl was, I might as well answer that question before inviting a thousand e-mails.
The Dust Bowl occurred from 1935 to 1940. The Great Plains were hit with a severe drought and high temperatures in the 1930s, and that decade was preceded by a cooler, much wetter era in the 1920s.
From World War I on, there was a huge increase in the amount of acreage plowed up for wheat and other crops. Most of this land was home to dryland farming — no irrigation.
When the Dust Bowl slowly overwhelmed the landscape we learned that it wasn’t prudent to have that much dry land exposed.
It got hot and dry and then windy. The dust storms from that time now are legendary.
Many farmers went bankrupt. The Dust Bowl forced a gigantic migration as farming families engaged in a truly historic exodus — but many had nowhere to go.
The Dust Bowl occurred during one of America’s darkest hours, the Great Depression. Although one did not cause the other, it was a particularly bad time for a farmer to be thrown off his land, because it was so hard for anyone to find a job.
There isn’t any way to adequately describe the Dust Bowl in this space. Instead, I’ll recommend a few things. Read “The Grapes of Wrath,” the great John Steinbeck novel, or at least see the movie, which featured Henry Fonda.
In non-fiction you could read “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns did a critically acclaimed two-part series called “The Dust Bowl.”
Got a question? Contact Barry Noreen at 636-0363 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Hear him on KRDO 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. Fridays.