Black Blizzards

The Black Blizzards are a weather phenomenon that struck the southern Great Plains of the United States in the 1930’s. These so-called blizzards were in fact massive dust storms that wreaked havoc on the plains. The decade in which the Black Blizzards occurred is often referred to as the dirty 30’s. The storms are referred to as the dust bowl of the 1930’s.

Black Blizzards were the result of years of using improper farming techniques in the plains. Very dry weather also contributed to the Black Blizzards. Despite the years of drought and terrible soil, farmers continued to plow the land. Crops were not properly rotated and areas that shouldn’t have been tilled were. Wheat was a hot commodity at the time, so farmers continued to plant massive amounts of it in the same spots year after year.

This misunderstanding of soil erosion caused the ground to become very dry and loose. The Black Blizzards were able to happen because there were no more crops or grasses to hold the soil down. No one was aware of the grave repercussions this would have.

The Black Blizzards began in the early thirties. Winds that rolled across the plains picked up massive amounts of this dry soil and deposited it everywhere. The insides of houses became layered with dirt. Cars and farm equipment became buried in the deep drifts of soil that the Black Blizzards caused. Livestock choked to death on the dirt or were buried alive in it. Doctors saw patients that were coughing up lung fulls of dirt. Many of them died of complications or suffocation.

In March of 1932, there were twenty-two straight days of Black Blizzards in the southern plains. Early in 1933 a huge Black Blizzard occurred that wiped out most of the crops that had managed to make it until then. By the end of 1933 there had been a total of 139 days that Black Blizzards had occurred. In May of 1934, a Black Blizzard made its way to Washington, D.C. and New York City. In April of 1935 a Black Blizzard blew across the plains at 65 miles an hour. This day became known as Black Sunday.

Black Blizzards were capable of blocking out the sun for days on end. When this happened, the temperature could drop 40 degrees in an hour. And if people did not have enough to deal with, bad weather was happening all over the country during those years. Heavy rains, record temperatures, tornadoes and floods exacerbated the problems the people were having. In 1936 temperatures hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the plains. Two years later the Black Blizzards mixed with snow and became real blizzards.

All of this bizarre weather and terrible crops could not have come at a worse time. The United States was in the midst of an economic crisis known as the Great Depression. This certainly didn’t help matters for the out of work farmers in the southern plains. Families had to leave their homes and seek work elsewhere. Millions of people were homeless. Many of them tried to find work in California, but the depression was happening everywhere and jobs were scarce.

A massive migration of people happened. Families fleeing the Black Blizzards were forced to live transient lives. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is based in this time in U.S. history. His story chronicles the problems of the people in the plains at that time.

At the beginning of the 1940’s there was finally an end to the Black Blizzards. It had taken the soil ten years to repair the damage caused by the farmers. The beginning of the forties also saw an end to the Great Depression. President Roosevelt had the good sense to enact the New Deal Program. This program taught farmers about how to prevent soil erosion with crop rotation and proper irrigation. Now farmers are equipped with the knowledge needed to prevent Black Blizzards from happening again.


The Dust Bowl, retrieved 7/9/09,

1930’s Dust Bowl, retrieved 7/9/09,