The Dust Bowl Story Has A Warning For The Future

The biggest disaster is Oklahoma history, took place over an entire decade.

The Dust Bowl took lives, destroyed farms and forced people from their homes.

For a greater understanding of that time, we spoke with film producer Ken Burns.

He's just finished a 2-part documentary on the subject.

Burns says very few of us fully appreciate all that happened.

It was the largest man-made disaster in American history.

Land from Oklahoma was picked up by the wind and blow into the Atlantic Ocean.

President Theodore Roosevelt could get Oklahoma Dust on his finger in the oval office.

The problems started when farmers turned over the native grasslands of the region.

The prairie grasses had roots that went down 5-feet, to find moisture and hold the land together.

A few wet years and federal homesteading policies, encouraged farmers to work more land.

In a few years they'd cultivated an area the size of Ohio.

It stretched from the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles into New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.

When a major drought hit, nature stuck back.

The dust blacked the sky and filled people's lungs.

But Burns says the people of the region should take pride, in what happened next.

Heroic farmers hung on and worked with the government to repair the land.

He says the answers were crop rotation, better plowing techniques and millions of trees to keep the soil from blowing away.

He says it's a true example of American determination.

At the same time, Burns says the Dust Bowl story provides a warning for the future.

Many farmers are now using ground water for their crops, and that supply is limited.

Sometime in the next couple of generations, that resource is going to fail.

Unless we plan for that future, the same area, could turn into a desert.

But he hopes that won't become a reality.

His documentary "Dust Bowl" airs on PBS November 17th and 18th.