Compounding the problems brought on by the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s lasted approximately a decade. Its primary area of impact was on the southern Plains. The northern Plains were not so badly affected, but nonetheless, the drought, windblown dust and agricultural decline were no strangers to the north. In fact the agricultural devastation helped to lengthen the Depression whose effects were felt worldwide. The movement of people on the Plains was also profound.
As John Steinbeck wrote in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath: "And
then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico;
from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out.
Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and
a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains,
hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift,
to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The
kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying
for work, for food, and most of all for land."
Poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought caused the Dust
Bowl. Plains grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to wheat. During the
years when there was adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops. But
as the droughts of the early 1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and
planting and nothing would grow. The ground cover that held the soil in place
was gone. The Plains winds whipped across the fields raising billowing clouds of
dust to the skys. The skys could darken for days, and even the most well sealed
homes could have a thick layer of dust on furniture. In some places the dust
would drift like snow, covering farmsteads.