ASK TOM WHY: What caused so much static electricity during the Dust Bowl?

Dear Tom,

In Ken Burns’ film on the Dust Bowl, people reported static electricity so strong before the arrival of dust storms that it discouraged people touching anything or anyone. What caused so much static electricity there and then, and how did it arrive before the dust storms?

Jean SmilingCoyote, Chicago

 

Dear Jean,

Static electricity is an excess of electric charge (either positive or negative) on the surface of objects. A buildup of static electricity occurs most readily in dry air, which is a poor conductor and therefore inhibits static charge from bleeding off into the air. Very dry air prevalent in the Great Plains during the drought and Dust-Bowl years encouraged the buildup of static electricity, even when dust and sand storms were not in progress. Midwesterners experience the same phenomenon during wintertime episodes of very dry arctic air.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s