The year was 1935. Southwest Kansas was in the midst of the Great Depression but it was also suffering from a multi-year drought. Rainfall in southwest Kansas was never plentiful but it normally averaged around 18 inches per year in western Kansas. Between 1930 and 1940, the average was 15.25 inches with the lowest rainfall during that time period occurring in 1934 with an average of 11.14 inches. Because of the prolonged drought, conditions were extremely dry and western Kansas suffered horrific dust storms in late March and April in 1935. It is difficult to imagine the intensity of these storms but, fortunately, photos and postcards of these clouds of dust have been preserved. While most of the storms occurred in western Kansas, some of them reached eastern Kansas.
Lillian Foster kept a scrapbook that contains postcards, photos, newspaper clipping, and her own accounts of her experiences with dust storms in Ness City, Kansas. The content of the scrapbook gives an excellent overview of the impact of the dust storms. Lillian Foster scrapbook
The Kansas Emergency Relief Committee (KERC) was established to provide work relief in Kansas. They undertook a number of projects across the state including a number of water conservation efforts. The KERC produced an accomplishments movie that included footage of dust storms. This film is available at KERC Accomplishments Film, segment 11. A large population of jack rabbits created problems by eating the sparse vegetation so drives were organized to try to control them as illustrated in segment 10 of the KERC video.
Residents of western Kansas had to deal with the dust storms and their results. Many people wore masks to keep from breathing in the dust and farmers had to deal with drifts of fine dust all over their farms. Those who endured the dust storms and remained in western Kansas experienced a period of ample rainfall and prosperity during the 1940s. We hope the current drought in western Kansas is broken long before dust clouds can be formed.