CuriosiD: When the Dust Bowl Hit Detroit

The devastating dust storms of the 1930’s are commonly associated with the Great Plains. But one storm did reach Michigan.

CuriosiD is a regular series where listeners pose questions to the WDET staff, who then investigate the answers. 

Listener Lisa Diaz asked WDET about the Dust Bowl:

“Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl film described that a May 11, 1934 storm blackened the sky from Chicago to Pittsburgh. Did it reach Detroit?”

Short Answer

Yes, the Dust Bowl reached Detroit. Which may seem surprising since, for the most part, the great weather phenomenon of the 1930s was concentrated in Great Plains states like Oklahoma, Kansas and South Dakota, as pictured above. But according to Chelsea Denault, a PhD candidate in history at Loyola University who’s been doing research in the Detroit area, there were two main dust storms in the 1930s that made it east of the Mississippi.

The first was in May 1934. The second was known as “Black Sunday” and it happened on April 15, 1935. Denault’s research shows Michigan avoided Black Sunday but that the state, and Detroit specifically, was hit by the dust storm of May 1934. 

“The Detroit Free Press actually points to slick layer of grime over everything in the city,” says Denault.

Click on the player above to hear an interview with Denault about the “Dust Bowl” in Michigan, and see excerpts from Michigan newspapers that covered the dust storm’s impact on the state below.

About the Listener

Lisa Diaz was born in Detroit. Both her Grandfathers worked for Ford starting in the 1920s, but she says because they’ve passed away she couldn’t ask them about the Dust Bowl in Michigan. These days Diaz lives in Hawaii.

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  • Laura Herberg

    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.