Dust Bowl, the popular name for that part of the southern Great Plains subjected to severe wind erosion during the 1930's. It consisted of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, southwestern Kansas, northeastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado. Low annual precipitation and high winds are characteristic of the region.
The Dust Bowl area was originally grassland and was used primarily as grazing land until the early 20th century, when the growing of winter wheat became widespread. With the cultivation of the land came the destruction of the grasses that previously anchored the soil and prevented severe erosion. Devastating droughts occurred in the area from 1933 to 1939 and were accompanied by dust storms called “black blizzards.” Some of the dust clouds traveled eastward to the Atlantic coast and beyond. Much of the soil in the region of the Dust Bowl was blown away; crop and property damage was heavy, and many discouraged farmers moved away.
In response to the economic disaster created by the Dust Bowl, Congress passed the Soil and Conservation Act of 1935, which established the Soil and Conservation Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This agency began teaching soil conservation practices and providing funds to carry them out. Dry farming was started and efforts were begun to reestablish the grasslands; strips of trees, called shelterbelts, were planted as windbreaks; and crops that could withstand droughts were planted.
Dust storms have subsequently occurred in the Dust Bowl region, but they have not been as severe as those of the 1930's.