We watched "The Dust Bowl" by Ken Burns on PBS November 18 and 19; it was one of his best films since "The Civil War" if not the best. If you didn't see it, you should find a way to watch it. It's available for download on iTunes or you can buy the DVD or Blu-Ray at PBS. You can watch the trailer here.
What those people had to go through was unimaginable. We complain about the dust that constantly filters into the house, but it's nothing compared to what they had to deal with. The dust outside the houses piled up in drifts as high as the roof. And the dust invaded their bodies, filling their lungs, causing illness and many, many deaths. We complain about the wind that blows all through the month of April, but at least we don't get the "black blizzards" that they did. And it went on for 10 years, the storms growing more frequent as the years passed. No one in Washington, DC seemed to care about the situation, until the "Black Sunday" storm, which eventually blew the dust into New York City, into the Oval Office in the White House, and onto a ship out at sea. Finally people back east took notice and they started up programs such as the CCC and the WPA, which put people back to work, doing productive things that the country needed, such as building roads and bridges. The government also sent people to the dust bowl area to teach the farmers other ways of plowing that wouldn't harm the environment as much as the way they had been doing things. Gradually things got better and the dust storms stopped.
The "center" of the dust bowl was Boise City, Oklahoma, which is in the far western panhandle of Oklahoma, very close to the border with New Mexico.
The dust bowl was long ago, but it could happen again; sometimes it feels like it is happening, or at least starting to happen. No one is plowing the ground under, but we're in severe drought conditions and have been for years.
Ron and I were talking about it last night and we couldn't remember the last time it rained here. So we checked the handy-dandy weather station and saw that a month ago, we got a quarter of an inch of rain. The last "significant" rain we got was on September 12 when we got 0.68 of an inch.
We've only gotten 6.39 inches of precipitation this year, which I knew was extremely low, so I compared it with the precipitation totals of all the years since we got the weather station and created this graph.
2005 - 11.64
2006 - 10.15
2007 - 12.16
2008 - 9.91
2009 - 8.96
2010 - 9.05
2011 - 10.38
2012 - 6.39 (as of 12/5/12)
And of course a dry winter means less snowmelt in the spring, which makes for a very bad fire season next summer. Sigh.