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
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.