Friday, May 11th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Man Made Storms and Storm Chasing

1935 Image of Colorado Dust Storm from Library of CongressOn this date in 1934 a huge dust storm sent 350 million tons of silt and topsoil catapulting eastward from the Great Northern Plains, some of it reaching as far as New York and Atlanta.

The reason?

When the plains states were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass which kept the ground moist and kept soil from blowing away during hot, dry times. When farmers began plowing the grass under to plant crops, the soil dried and had nothing to keep it from blowing away.

Worse, the U.S. involvement in World War I in 1917 created a huge demand for wheat, and farmers plowed under more and more grassland, thanks also to a new invention: the tractor. Farmers continued to plow after the war, as even more powerful tractors came on the market. (In the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300%, glutting the market by 1931.)

In the early 1930s, a severe drought caused crops to die, and wind to carry the dust from the fields. Storms increased yearly until 1934 when the number of them decreased, but the severity increased, causing the worst dust storm in history on May 11. The New York Times reported, dust “lodged itself in the eyes and throats of weeping and coughing New Yorkers,” and even ships some 300 miles offshore saw dust collect on their decks.*

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem, essay or journal entry about being unexpectedly caught in a storm.
  • Write about being caught in a dust storm, wind storm or any kind of storm other than rain or sleet or hail. Was it a small storm, or a large one (affecting your town or the entire state)? Did you need to seek shelter? If so, where?
  • Write about:
    • biting the dust
    • dusting it up, or dusting it off
    • gathering dust
    • when the dust settles
    • dry as dust
    • dust bunnies
  • Theorize about how something we’re doing today could unintentionally cause a catastrophe such as the dust storm of 1934. What would we need to do to prevent it? How could we fix the problem if we don’t?
  • Would you ever consider being a storm chaser? Why or why not? What do you think the risks would be? What do you think the rewards would be?
  • Scientists risk their lives chasing tornadoes in hopes of learning about them. What do you think these scientists are trying to find out? What do you think the benefits will be for society if scientists find these answers?
  • I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    And the wind so cold, boy, it nearly cut your water off.

    I seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    I’ve seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    Buried my tractor six feet underground.

    Well, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    Yes, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    I had to hit that road with a bottle in my hand.

    ~ From the Dust Bowl Blues, Woody Guthrie

  • “Charge it to the dust and let the rain settle it.”
  • Write about any other natural disaster, such as a tornado, a landslide or avalanche, a tsunami, or an earthquake.
  • Write about a storm that personally affected you in some way. What kind of storm was it? How did you get caught in it? What were the consequences?
  • Write a story where a storm is the inciting incident. (The inciting incident is the action or event that sets in motion the central conflict of the story.) Or, write a story in which a storm plays a major role.
  • Write about:
    • the calm before a storm
    • the eye of the storm, or being in the eye of the storm
    • weathering the storm
    • stormy weather
    • any port in a storm
    • a storm is brewing
    • storming out of a room
    • taking something by storm
  • We are the voices of the wandering wind,
    Which moan for rest and rest can never find;
    Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life,
    A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.

    ~ The Deva’s Song, Sir Edwin Arnold

Good Luck!



* Quote from’s May 11 entry.
Image Credit: A dust storm strikes Powers County, Colorado, in April 1935. Image: Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection, Repro. Num. LC-USF343-001617-ZE DLC.