Dust Bowl Rhetoric Watch

From today’s New  York Times, a story about Boise City, Oklahoma:

Survivor of Dust Bowl Now Battles a Fiercer Drought

As I said before:


No, no, no.

The Dust Bowl was decadal in scale. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, where Boise City is located, the dry went on for year after year – nine consecutive years in the 1930s with below-average precipitation. In the 2009-10 water year, the Panhandle had average precip. This year is, indeed, extreme. But the average over the previous decade is slightly above average. This is a very bad one-year drought. It is nothing like the Dust Bowl.


  1. While precipitation levels don’t approach those of that era isn’t it possible that other Dust Bowl conditions – namely soil loss – are just as bad now if not worse?

  2. My understanding from reporting I’ve done in the past (and some of the comments in the story) suggest that the farming practices that contributed to the “dust” part of the “Dust Bowl” have been substantially changed, such that soil loss is less of a problem today.

  3. @coco

    John is correct. During the Dust Bowl era, there were no erosion control measures instituted at the macro level, so the decision was left to individual farmers who, more often than not, put their entire fields into production. As a consequence of the Dust Bowl, the Soil Conservation Service was founded which organized small scale farmers into Soil Conservation Districts, effectively forcing all farmers to share the responsibility for erosion control measures (wind breaks, strip cropping, etc). This is why, for example, the 1950s drought, which in many ways was as severe as the Dust Bowl, had nowhere near the same levels of dust storm activity.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Right, farming. But soil loss has intensified from other land uses and every type of construction. I can’t cite direct evidence but I’ll bet the Bernalillo County SCS can estimate the scope of a huge problem with our standards and “BMPs” for grading and drainage – especially hundreds of acres at a time for stalled housing subdivisions.

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