The Garden City Telegram

Dusty days

Decades later, horrific storms still bring important lessons.

Memories of the nightmare known as the Dust Bowl still linger.

Whether Kansans experienced the 1930s disaster firsthand, or heard about it from parents and grandparents, it's the kind of story naturally passed on from generation to generation.

And the disaster continues to teach us to this day.

Local residents interested in learning more about the storms are invited to a showing of "The Dust Bowl," a new documentary to be presented in two parts on Tuesday and Thursday at the Finney County Historical Museum. Both viewings begin at 3:30 p.m.

The Public Broadcast Service production by Ken Burns chronicles what some would call the worst man-made, ecological disaster in American history — one created by farming methods that failed to control and prevent wind erosion.

At the same time, the documentary also promises to present a tale of amazing human perseverance in Kansas and other affected places.

The trouble started brewing in the 1930s when a mix of drought, searing heat and strong wind — not unlike weather conditions of late — combined to produce devastating black blizzards of dust.

People suffered from suffocation, pneumonia and other life-threatening conditions.

Many in the path of the storms put wet sheets on windows to keep out the dust during those miserable days. Others gave up and fled.

Decades later, the so-called "Dirty Thirties" continue to deliver a sobering reminder of what happened to produce such a disaster, while also driving home the importance of good stewardship of our land.

Lessons learned in the 1930s led to practices intended to reduce vulnerability of affected regions to future droughts. Conservation programs designed to protect soil and water sources were launched, along with other strategies to preserve natural habitat in rural areas.

Drought and other weather uncertainties still pose a threat today, making pursuit of additional strategies essential. Crafting more effective ways to conserve a dwindling water supply would be but one critical area of concern.

Short of such significant change, it won't take dust storms to spur the kind of economic setbacks that could leave this region and others to dry up and blow away.