Sunday winds bring memories of Dirty Thirties

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

High, hard-hitting winds whipped across the Great Plains Sunday, reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile in places and causing a 17-car pileup on Interstate 70 about 10 miles east of Burlington, Colo.

The winds were scary in their intensity, and, for several hours, the people on the Plains could sense what their grandparents went through -- for weeks on end -- during the Dirty '30s.

Is it going to get that way again? If the winds keep up, it very well could. Even Sunday -- when wind gusts peaked at 60 miles per hour in McCook, 58 miles per hour in Goodland and 68 mph north of Kit Carson, Colo. -- there were moments when residents wondered if their lives and property were in danger.

While traveling the highways and country roads of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, drivers' vehicles were smacked broadside by fast-moving tumbleweeds, in some cases causing scrapes and dents.

And, when passing freshly tilled fields, there were times that clouds of dust cut motorists' visibility to zero, stopping traffic in its tracks.

Old trees were uprooted. Limbs and branches were torn loose and tossed helter-skelter across the countryside.

It was not only scary, it was eerie as well. When dirt was whirling at its worst, the skies were dusky and dreary, making it hard to see trees and buildings only a few feet away.

Most alarming of all was the dust storm's reminder that America's Heartland is in the midst of an awful drought. From a statistical standpoint, rainfall amounts are as low as they were in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. And, if it were not for advances in farming, this drought could be just as devastating as the one 70 years ago.

We hope it doesn't get to that point, but if the winds keep howling and the drought drags on, we're going to have to come up with a name to describe the Plains' wind-blown plight in the early 2000s.

How about the Blows of the '00s? While the title may not measure up to the precise, descriptive power of the Dirty '30s, at least it would let historians know that -- even in this new century -- we are plagued by drought and the wind-driven dirt it produces.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: