Droughts of the Past

Part A: The Dust Bowl

Shriveled crops and abandoned house, Haskell County, Kansas, April 1941.
Drought that gripped the Great Plains of America from 1931 through 1939 changed the country forever. Drawn by the opportunity to farm their own land, thousands of newly settled farmers cleared millions of acres of grassland to plant crops. When drought set in, crops died, topsoil blew away, and many of the farmers and their families moved away.

The environmental, social, and economic results of the drought and their repercussions through American life are documented in the PBS film "Surviving the Dust Bowl."

An excerpt from the program description:

In 1931 the rains stopped and the "black blizzards" began. Powerful dust storms carrying millions of tons of stinging, blinding black dirt swept across the Southern Plains--the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, western Kansas, and the eastern portions of Colorado and New Mexico. Topsoil that had taken a thousand years per inch to build suddenly blew away in only minutes. One journalist traveling through the devastated region dubbed it the "Dust Bowl."

"Surviving the Dust Bowl" is the remarkable story of the determined people who clung to their homes and way of life, enduring drought, dust, disease--even death--for nearly a decade.

  1. Go to the Surviving the Dust Bowl Website. Explore pages on the site to learn about the drought that caused the Dust Bowl and the consequences of it. You may also watch the film online at this site. In addition to the portions that you choose to explore, be sure to visit the:

  2. Listen to personal accounts from people who lived through the Dust Bowl experience. View several of the film clips available at the Living History Farm's Dust Bowl website.
  3. Click the year buttons along the bottom of the the Living History Farm's interactive drought map to view the extent of the drought each year.
  4. After you've explored web features and watched film clips, participate in a class discussion about the results of drought and the possibility that drought of this magnitude could occur again in the United States or elsewhere.