Seventy years ago today was Black Sunday, when a massive windstorm hit the Great Plains from eastern Colorado to Texas, an area that had been transformed by drought and overcultivation from some of America’s most fertile land into a dusty wasteland. After the storm, which launched some 300 million tons of topsoil into the air, blackening the sky across parts of six states, the area was called the Dust Bowl.
Today, there’s plenty of talk of a New Dust Bowl.
Much of the land affected in the 1930s, of course, is now either depopulated or covered with mechanized mega-farms. But the persistent drought of the last four years, coupled with a relaxation of some of the erosion controls put in place after World War II, have returned many areas of the Northern Plains to their dusty, windblown state. As much as 62 percent of rangeland in the Northern Plains is in need of conservation measures to control erosion, according to the Natural Resources Inventory carried out by federal and state agencies.