Black Sunday

On Sunday, April 14, 1935, the worst dust storm in history swept through southwestern Kansas, through the Oklahoma Panhandle, into Perryton, and extended down through the Texas Panhandle. The extreme drought and dry weather of the early ’30s, combined with poor soil conservation techniques, led to frequent dust storms—as many as 50 over a 104-day period—but this storm was like nothing before it.

On the morning of the 13th, temperatures were among the coldest of the month. Then, on Palm Sunday, the sun shone brightly. The skies were clear, and temperatures rose to the 90s. Local residents spent the afternoon outdoors enjoying the warm weather and respite from the recent dust storms.

But as the afternoon progressed, the temperature began to drop. (Some reports say the temperature fell as many as 50 degrees over the course of a few hours that evening.) Around 5 p.m., winds billowing in from the north at 50 miles per hour brought a massive dust storm.

Like a wave, an 8,000-foot wall cloud of dust engulfed Perryton. Though it was mid afternoon, the sky was darker than midnight. Visibility was reduced to zero; even your hand in front of your face was impossible to see. Some thought the world had come to an end. For more than 10 minutes, no one could see anything.

“Dave was on his way home from the neighbors’. It became pitch black, so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your eyes. Dave had to crawl home a half mile in the bar ditch … and got dust pneumonia afterwards,” recalled Barbara A. Unruh of Perryton in Wheatheart of the Plains – History Marches On.

People were stranded wherever they were—on the road, at picnics, at the theater. Static electricity from the dust disrupted engines’ ignition systems, and cars stalled from the excess soil. Dirt filled homes and offices, and it piled against buildings like snowdrifts. It obliterated the already struggling wheat crops.

Fortunately, the dust storm of Black Sunday was the worst Perryton saw. As a result of the Plains’ damaging dust storms, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Soil Conservation Act in late April of 1935; it creating subsidies for farmers to plant native grass, rather than solely commercial crops, to help combat the soil erosion.

 


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