One of the most infamous ecological disasters in U.S. history, the Dust Bowl was a decade-long period of severe dust storms that devastated wide swaths of the Great Plains during much of the 1930s. Widespread drought conditions and over-farming led to crop failure and mass migrations until rainfall finally returned in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The resulting economic hardships were compounded by the Great Depression. According to one report from the Works Progress Administration, 21 percent of all rural Great Plains families were receiving federal emergency relief by 1936; by 1940, 2.5 million people had left the region entirely. The period also spawned some of the country’s most iconic literary and artistic works, including Dorothea Lang’s famous photo “Migrant Mother,” and John Steinbeck’s novels “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men.”