Almanac: The Dust Bowl

And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: May 11th, 1934, 80 years ago today . . . a dark day for New York and many other East Coast cities.

For that was the day a dust storm from the Great Plains came to call.

Decades of poor farming practices had severely depleted the soil in the nation's mid-section by the early 1930s. Add chronic drought conditions -- and much of the nation's breadbasket was transformed into a Dust Bowl.

The stories and iconic images of the personal hardships of that time are still familiar to many of us.

Less well-remembered is the fact that the prevailing west-to-east winds occasionally brought tons of dust a thousand miles or more to the Eastern seaboard . . . and even hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic.

As dawn broke on May 11, the Pittsburgh airport reported dust so thick that visibility was reduced to one mile.

New York was soon to follow. The New York Times described "a half-light similar to the light cast by the sun in a partial eclipse."

Other dust storms would follow during those years, leading the Roosevelt administration to take emergency measures to protect the land -- and encourage more sustainable farming.

Fast forward to today, with an ongoing drought in the South-Central states, and the release this past week of a new report on climate change warning of higher temperatures and more droughts to come.

All of which is leading many to wonder whether the Dust Bowl is really so far away -- and so long ago -- after all.

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