Multiple causes of wind erosion in the Dust Bowl

Jeffrey A. Lee, Thomas E. Gill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The Dust Bowl refers to a disaster focused in the Southern Great Plains of North America during the 1930s, when the region experienced extreme wind erosion. Dry farming techniques increased soil erodibility. Drought reduced both soil cohesion, making it more erodible, and land cover, leaving the soil less protected from wind action. Low crop prices (driven by the Great Depression), extremely poor harvests (driven by drought), and lack of knowledge of regionally-appropriate tillage practices left farmers unable to implement erosion control on their land. The 1930s drought was severe, but neither unusual in the region nor extreme in length from a climatological perspective. Sea-surface temperature changes in the Atlantic and Pacific forced changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation over North America. The result was persistent, intensifying drought within the Southern Great Plains for multiple years, causing a cascade of desiccation. Increased atmospheric dust and increased frequency of cyclones crossing the region may also have exacerbated Dust Bowl conditions. The Dust Bowl resulted from the simultaneous combination of drought and economic depression in a region where farmers had not yet learned effective land management techniques. Economic recovery, cessation of drought, and implementation of erosion control programs combined to end the Dust Bowl by the end of the 1930s. Many lessons were learned from the 1930s Dust Bowl regarding the physical and anthropogenic causes of dust storms and how to mitigate them. As a result, though dust storms continue on the Southern Great Plains, their severity is significantly reduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-36
Number of pages22
JournalAeolian Research
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Dust Bowl
  • Dust storm
  • Great Plains
  • Wind erosion


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