ASK TOM: How did the Dust Bowl of the 1930s come to be called the Dust Bowl?

Dear Tom,
How did the Dust Bowl of the 1930s come to be called the Dust Bowl?

— Steven White, Chicago
Dear Steven,
The term was applied inadvertently. By spring of 1935, much of the Great Plains had suffered through periods of intense drought for four years. The panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as a much broader region, were literally becoming a desert, a man-made ecological disaster resulting from poor land use.

 
While driving in the Oklahoma panhandle, Roger Geiger, an Associated Press reporter, was trapped in the horrible “Black Sunday” dust storm of April 14, 1935. Attempting to describe the desperate hope of people there, Geiger wrote, “Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue rule life in the dust bowl of the continent — ‘if it rains.’”

 

Dust Bowl caught on.