Posted by: pyeager | May 9, 2009

Black Blizzard

This is the close to the anniversary of one of the most famous black blizzards of the 1930s.

A black blizzard is the term used to describe the massive, wind-driven dust storms of the Plains that occurred during the Dust Bowl years. We all have heard of the Dust Bowl, of course, but for most of us (myself included), our knowledge of this horrendous time is limited. The dust bowl was caused by a combination of natural (long-term drought) and man-made (replacing native drought-resistant grass with non-drought-resistant crops such as wheat).

Black Blizzard of May 9 to 11, 1934
A particularly potent black blizzard occurred in the Plains on May 9, 1934, and it spread dust eastward to New York City Boston (even ships in the Atlantic Ocean had an accumulation of dust) two days later.

The dust storm was produced by a dry cold front (a cold front that was not accompanied by any rain) that moved through the Plains. As fronts in the Plains typically do, it produced a lot of wind, which created a huge dust storm (black blizzard). The intensity of the black blizzard was enough to pull dust high into the atmosphere. As the storm cold front shifted eastward, it dumped dust in Chicago and eventually New York and Boston–even though the storm had picked up enough moisture by the time it arrived along the Eastern Seaboard to also produce spotty light rain.

Dust Cloud with a Silver Lining
This dust storm did have a silver lining of sorts. While it was a continuation of the frightful conditions for years in the Plains, the arrival of the Plains’ dust on the big eastern cities brought the Dust Bowl the media attention it deserved, resulting in increase aid and assistance.

The suffering of these Americans, especially when combined with the Depression, is beyond anything I can imagine.

The History Channel recently had an excellent episode on the Dust Bowl, called the Black Blizzard. It originally aired in October 2008 and again in April 2009; I’m sure it will air again–look for it.

As far as the review of the weather at the time, I used NOAA’s Daily Weather Maps, which are in a format that I cannot post here–or I would.

–Paul Yeager

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