Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

Droughts of the Past


A great "roller" moves across the plains during the 1930's. Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

America's most famous drought resulted in an environmental disaster called the Dust Bowl. From 1931 to 1939, a five-state region of the Great Plains received little rain and endured horrendous dust storms that stripped the land of its topsoil. The event went on to shape the demographics of the American West as thousands of people migrated out of the plains and on to other western states.

In this activity, you'll watch a PBS video and/or interact with the video's companion website. You'll also examine maps and animations that show the distribution of drought patterns across the contiguous U.S. over the past 300 years. Finally, you'll examine the amount of time different areas spend in drought.

Keeping Track of What You Learn

In these pages, you'll find two kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you focused on key concepts. They allow you to check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills. These questions require you to pull some concepts together or apply your knowledge in a new situation.
Your teacher will let you know which questions you should answer and turn in.