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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Surviving The Dust Bowl

Airs Monday, November 16, 2009 at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Credit: Carson County Square House Museum

Above: The “black blizzards” (pictured) that started in the summer of 1933 enveloped the lower great plains in a shroud, blowing away the thin layer of topsoil exposed by the ploughs of the hardy settlers who sought to tame what was marked, perhaps presciently, on early maps as “The Great American Desert.” For two years the summers were dry and windy, prompting some to leave, but as many as two thirds of the farmers stayed put, weathering the drought.

In 1931 the rains stopped and the “black blizzards” began. Powerful dust storms carrying millions of tons of stinging, blinding black dirt swept across the Southern Plains—the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, western Kansas, and the eastern portions of Colorado and New Mexico. Topsoil that had taken a thousand years per inch to build suddenly blew away in only minutes. One journalist traveling through the devastated region dubbed it the “Dust Bowl.”

"Surviving the Dust Bowl" is the remarkable story of the determined people who clung to their homes and way of life, enduring drought, dust, disease—even death—for nearly a decade. Less well-known than those who sought refuge in California, typified by the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” the Dust Bowlers who stayed overcame an almost unbelievable series of calamities and disasters.

“Only one-quarter of the Dust Bowlers fled to California—most stayed, persevering through ten grueling years,” says producer Chana Gazit. “I was intrigued by their stories—their stamina and resilience to battle through frighteningly powerful, devastating wind and dust storms.”

Watch the full program and view the photo gallery online.

Surviving the Dust Bowl

The story of the determined people who clung to their homes and way of life, enduring drought, dust, disease and even death for nearly a decade.

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