Time Machine Thursday: Dust Bowl, Then and Now – Could It Happen Again?

Hot, hot, hot!

It’s been very hot and dry here in Oklahoma. The governor has declared a state of emergency and a burn ban because of drought conditions. The mayor has declared restrictions on water. The electric company reports record usage as people try to tolerate the brutal heat.

It makes me thankful for my air-conditioning, though it fights to keep up. I look at my lawn, dried and brown, but still dotted with islands of green grass. I’ve been nursing it along by watering it about every 4 days. What if there was no water to keep the plants from shriveling and blowing away? What if there was no air conditioning to keep my family cool in this abnormal heat?

That’s exactly what happened during 1932 – 1938 in Oklahoma. There were drought conditions combined with high summer temperatures that helped create what today is called ‘The Dust Bowl’. In 1936 the highest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma happened in the towns of Poteau, Alva and Altus at 120 degrees. People didn’t have the modern conveniences of air conditioning, electric refrigeration, or automatic water irrigation. Combined with the economic conditions of the Depression, it forced a mass exodus of Oklahomans to find jobs, habitable land and homes in the Western states, mainly California.

Cimmaron County, Oklahoma, 1936, Library of Congress

John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath gave a face to the terrible plight many families confronted and Woody Guthrie memorialized it with what was considered the first concept album ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’:

Interested in finding out more about the Dust Bowl?

Here are some books to whet your historical appetite:



Could the Dust Bowl happen again? Conditions are ripe but federal, state and local governments have learned from agricultural policies of the 1930’s. Still, governments can’t control the weather. Hopefully proper land and water management will help. My grass going dry is nothing compared with what some tough Oklahomans endured in the past.

Question: Do you or relatives have any recollections of life during the Depression and Dust Bowl days? Know of any good historical fiction reads set in the ‘Dirty Thirties’? Let us know!

5 thoughts on “Time Machine Thursday: Dust Bowl, Then and Now – Could It Happen Again?

  1. Could? I live in Shawnee, OK. My weeds are dead; my dirt is dust; and I’m rather worried I might go bust. The fields are dead; the smart cows are gone; the pond is almost dry. My job is to serve people that have disposable cash lying around. My AC won’t keep up and the market is down. It’s time I say to go underground but, My wife won’t listen as she thinks I’m a clown. I have cashed my 401k and I am on my way. Underground or out of town, but it is time to quit sending my cash to other people. No doubt in my mind. You can wait until the next wind storm if you want, but as or me, I’m on the clock. Prepare for the bust. I have land for sale; I have sold my stocks; stocking my cupboard and buying socks. My friends, children, and neighbors in there bliss are unaware. Silicosis is not my goal. I see such a fine dust in my yard and know it can come, and it is time to go before it does. But what will convince my wife.
    It is folly to think that irrigation; no till farming; or the government is going to save us. The answer is sure here for me, but everyone else can make their mind up in a few years, after someone makes a movie about it.


  2. Thanks for stopping by, Lyndell, and for your thought-provoking and poetic comment. In some people’s minds, particularly urban dwellers, it might be only an inconvenience to have drought conditions, but for others it is a struggle to retain a livelihood and a way of life. Scary times we live in. Prayers for you and your family.


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