Dust Bowl 1930-1940: What Caused It?

The Dust Bowl of the 1930's was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States and caused many to leave their homes to get away from the incessant duststorms.

There are many theories about what may have caused the duststorms of the 1930’s including failure to rotate crops, grassland being plowed under to grow wheat and unstable ocean temperatures which caused the weather patterns to change.

Growing wheat was a very profitable enterprise at the time so apparently farmers started converting grasslands into farmland for the purpose of growing more wheat.

The Dust Bowl mostly affected where the five states of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico intersected.

According to the above map only a small portion of Oklahoma and New Mexico were affected by the duststorms while a larger portion of Kansas, Texas and Colorado were affected. It is surprising that Oklahoma which is usually identified as the hardest hit by the duststorms since you read more about the Okies moving to California than those of other states.

John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men and both books relate how difficult life was for the immigrants from the dust bowl who had moved to California.

A 1934 duststorm blew dust across the country as far as New York City. Life became unbearable for those living in the path of the duststorms and they began to migrate to California.

Some historians have estimated that between 300,000-400,000 immigrants migrated to California during the dust bowl years.

The Los Angeles police were not welcoming the immigrants. Rather they established a “Bum Blockade” to turn them back.

California even went so far as to establish an Indigent Act passed in 1933 that made it a crime to bring immigrants into the state.

The dust bowl years couldn’t have came at a worse time with the United States deep in the throes of the Great Depression. The dust bowl victims not only lost their livelihood but had to leave their homes to escape the oppressive dust storms.

The following short video tells some of the experiences of dust bowl victims:

It is ironic that life didn’t improve for the immigrants till the advent of World War II as some of the immigrants joined the war efforts as servicemen while those left behind were employed in the war effort at home working in defense factories.

Ken Burns who has done documentaries on many subjects for PBS is planning to do a retrospective on the Dust Bowl in the not too distant future.