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This Month in Climate History: Black Sunday

Perhaps you read the American classic The Grapes of Wrath in your high school English class.

In the novel, an Oklahoma family makes their way to California, trying to escape the deserted farms of the Great Plains. The story takes place around the era of the dust bowl, a period of American history in which the farms of the Great Plains, stripped of their topsoil and ravaged by drought, turned to dust and created frequent and terrible dust storms, forcing many to evacuate the region. These storms are one of the great early examples of how human activity can impact weather and climate.

The worst of the dust storms is remembered as Black Sunday. On April 14, 1935, 300,000 tons of soil were picked up and whipped across the country. Winds reaching speeds of up to 60MPH blew dust so fiercely through Oklahoma and Texas that people couldn't see their own hands in front of their faces. The day turned to night. Some people were even rendered blind by the whipping dust. It was the day after that a journalist first referred to the region as the "dust bowl", a term we still use today.

Congress passed a Soil Conservation act shortly after Black Sunday: it declared improper soil maintenance a public menace and discouraged the overuse of land. Despite this act, improper agricultural techniques are still contributing to our changing climate. Monoculture systems that rely on adding chemical fertilizers can strip soil of its natural capacity to sequester carbon. Science suggests that if we altered our farming practices, we could remove a great deal of planet-warming carbon from the atmosphere, discussed at length in the documentary Kiss the Ground.


 1.April 14 - Black Sunday Dust Storm, Today in Conservation,

2. The Black Sunday Dust Storm of April 14, 1935, National Weather Service

3. Monocropping: A Disastrous Agricultural System, Food Revolution Network

4. Kiss the Ground Movie, Soil Conservation Act (1935), The Living New Deal


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