Friday, May 28, 2010

Environmental Disasters: The Dust Bowl

The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not the first time that America has faced an environmental catastrophe of historic proportions. In the 1930s, Washington had to pay close attention to the disaster, however, because it arrived, literally, on Washington’s doorstep.

The most peculiar natural phenomena ever to hit Washington D.C. was a gigantic dust storm blowing in from the Great Plains. Years of environmental mismanagement on the Great Plains set the stage for a natural calamity. In 1931, a drought hit the Great Plains. Crops died and because the ground cover keeping the soil in place was gone, the naturally windy area began whipping up dust. Dust storms became problematic and continued to grow in intensity. In 1934 an enormous storm drove 350 tons of silt across the Great Plains as far as the East Coast. Ships three hundred miles off shore in the Atlantic reported collecting dust on their decks. In April 1935, a dust storm arrived in Washington from the Great Plains. A dusty gloom spread over the region and blotted out the sun. Meanwhile, in downtown Washington, conservationist Hugh Hammond Bennett was testifying before Congress about the need for soil conservation. Bennett explained, (pointing to the darkened skies over Washington) "This, gentlemen, is what I have been talking about." Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act the same year.

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