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The Dust Bowl: The Dirty Thirties

A project made for environmental science discussing one of, if not the, worst environmental disaster in US history which, coincidentally, is also one of the most overlooked. Made by Susan Mulholland and Edwin Espinel.
by

Susie Mulholland

on 19 November 2015

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Transcript of The Dust Bowl: The Dirty Thirties

the dust bowl
In the early 1930s, a long drought compounded with over-farming led to large scale erosion of topsoil. This topsoil, combined with high winds and a continued lack of rain, began to create dust storms known as black blizzards.
The Area
Affected?

The Dust Bowl was located in southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.
The Black Blizzards
In 1932, only 14 storms were recorded on the Great Plains. A year later, there were 38 storms.
topsoil to the winds.
had lost all or most of the
size of Pennsylvania,
100 million acres of farmland, an area roughly the
By 1934, it was estimated that
But it continued...
Effects on Humans
As many as 250,000 Americans in the Great Plains were forced to abandon their homes, moving west in search of work in California. By 1938, almost 2.5 million people were forced to flee from the dust storms.
Livestock:
Many animals went blind due to the sand storms. Inhaled, the sand would fill the lungs and make breathing difficult or impossible, suffocating the animal slowly. Others still ate food covered in dust and dirt and, unable to process it, starved to death with a stomach full of sand.
Humans:
During a black blizzard, there was little to no visibility. Farmers were forced to use guide ropes to go from building to building or they'd get lost.
Red Cross workers distributed respiratory masks to affected families to help filter out some of the dust. Families would clean their homes each morning with shovels and brooms and draped wet sheets over doors and windows to reduce the sand entering the house. Even so children and adults inhaled the sand, began to cough up dirt, and died of the 'dust pneumonia' plaguing the Dust Bowl.
Causes?
Increased immigration pushed settlers farther west into the Great Plains
Cattle ranching had been popular but, even after a number of harsh winters and a short drought, an expansive agricultural mindstate had developed.
An unusually wet season led people to believe that the land was suited for large-scale sustainable farming, believing that the climate of the Plains had changed.
Technology such as the plow made huge farms possible, leaving no land untouched.
WWI: increased demand for agricultural goods. Farmers grew more of the same plants, using more and more land.
What they didn't know:
By deep-plowing, farmers uprooted and destroyed endemic grasses whose roots kept the topsoil secured and helped retain moisture on the Plains, even in times of drought.
They also:
Burned the 'stubble' (residual vegetation after the harvest) and left the fields alone during the winter months, when winds hit hardest. This deprived the surface of nutrients and rooted plant-life to hold down the soil.
The Dirty Thirties
Practices Developed to Help Humans During and After the Dust Bowl:
Practices Developed to Help the Environment During and After the Dust Bowl:
President F. D. R. passed a series of laws and acts through his New Deal that helped farmers keep their farms and homes from foreclosure
The Taylor Grazing Act was passed in 1934 and reserved 140 million acres of land as protected federal lands.
The Civil Conservation Corps, another piece of New Deal legislature, garnered 3 million young American men to plant trees, dig ditches, and build reservoirs to contribute to flood control, water conservation, and prevent further soil erosion.
Other New Deal acts concentrated towards Dust Bowl victims include: the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, the Resettlement Administration, the Farm Security Administration, the Land Utilization Program and the Drought Relief Service.
Soil Conservation Service was created to promote good soil management and farming practices such as irrigation, no-tilling farming, and crop diversity.
"The Dust Bowl belongs on the list of the top three, four, or five environmental catastrophes in world history."
~Donald Worster, historian, the University of Kansas
Technology:
Sand and dust creeped into car and tractor engines, rendering the machines useless. Many farmers had bought these machines on credit. Now that they weren't functional, it was that much more devastating when the stock market crashed.
Black Sunday
On April 14th, 1935, harsh winds struck the already arid Dust Bowl, whipping up over twenty recorded dust storms in a single afternoon, making it one of the darkest days of the Dust Bowl.
One survivor later states in his memoir, "… At other times a cloud is seen to be approaching from a distance of many miles. Already it has the banked appearance of a cumulus cloud, but it is black instead of white and it hangs low, seeming to hug the earth. Instead of being slow to change its form, it appears to be rolling on itself from the crest downward. As it sweeps onward, the landscape is progressively blotted out. Birds fly in terror before the storm, and only those that are strong of wing may escape. The smaller birds fly until they are exhausted, then fall to the ground, to share the fate of the thousands of jack rabbits which perish from suffocation."
In his memoir, survivor Lawrence Svobida, a wheat farmer at the time of the Dust Bowl, describes "… At other times a cloud is seen to be approaching from a distance of many miles. Already it has the banked appearance of a cumulus cloud, but it is black instead of white and it hangs low, seeming to hug the earth. Instead of being slow to change its form, it appears to be rolling on itself from the crest downward. As it sweeps onward, the landscape is progressively blotted out. Birds fly in terror before the storm, and only those that are strong of wing may escape. The smaller birds fly until they are exhausted, then fall to the ground, to share the fate of the thousands of jack rabbits which perish from suffocation."
Witnesses report that the dust blotted out the sun, turning day to night. Many survivors remember being told by various family and friends that it was the end of the world.
Was anything done to prevent the Dust Bowl?
No. During the 1920s, farmers had convinced themselves that the climate of the Great Plains had changed permanently so that it was now perfect for sustained farming. Unfortunately, the farming methods they'd been using in the years past were unsuited for the terrain.
What happened?
Full transcript