On April 14, 1935, a massive black cloud of dust rolled across several states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The wall of blowing sand and dirt coated everything, turning day into night and reducing visibility to near zero. The storm was the worst single storm of the Dust Bowl and resulted from years of drought and poor land management practices. The storm, known as the Black Sunday storm, resulted in the loss of crops and livestock and led to human fatalities from “dust pneumonia.”
The 1930s Dust Bowl came on the heels of the Great Depression, bringing misery to already suffering Americans. It was triggered by nearly a decade of drought and over-cultivation in the Great Plains. The native grasses that previously held the topsoil in place were eliminated, leaving the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to winds.
On the afternoon of April 14, a storm blasted the Oklahoma panhandle. Temperatures dropped quickly, and strong winds picked up loose topsoil. The winds carried the sand and soil particles across several states, picking up more dust as the storm churned. Lucian Doll, 14, was working on a Kansas farm when he noticed black clouds along the horizon. With a wall of dust quickly approaching, Doll unhooked his horse team and ran the animals a quarter mile to the barn. He reached the stable just as the dust cloud enveloped him. After securing the horses, he couldn’t see the house 50 yards away. When the storm finally passed, Doll went out to investigate the aftermath. He was shocked to find crops reduced to stubble and dead cattle standing upright, their lungs filled with dirt. “I thought the world was coming to an end,” he said.
Another witness described roads buried two feet deep, sand covering fences, and 20-foot dunes pressing against buildings. Associated Press reporter Robert Geiger and a photographer were driving in Oklahoma and saw the storm approaching. They raced at 60 miles an hour, trying to outrun the black cloud, but it overtook them. The following day Geiger filed a report and used the term “dust bowl” to describe their experience. He is credited with giving the Dust Bowl era its official name.
Dust from the Black Sunday storm worked its way into homes through every crack and crevice, coating every surface. One survivor remembers how they set dinner plates upside down on the table to prevent them from getting dusty. They turned over the dishes when the food was ready, but everything still tasted gritty.
With so much dust in the air, it was hard to avoid breathing it in. Officials urged people to wear masks, but many became sick and developed pneumonia. Hundreds and possibly thousands died. Following this destructive dust storm, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act on April 27, 1935. The Act aimed to help landowners and government agencies maintain healthy and productive working landscapes.
The National Weather Service ranks the Black Sunday storm as one of the most significant events of the 20th century. If you would like to learn more about the storm, search Newspapers.com ™ today. In addition, see curated clippings about the Dust Bowl in our Newspaper.com Topic Pages.