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Research Notes

The "Black Sunday" Dust Storm of 14 April 1935

Research Notes

Quotes

"Suddenly there appeared on the northern horizon a black blizzard, moving toward them; there was no sound, no wind, nothing but an immense 'boogery' cloud.  Donald Worster, Dust Bowl – The Southern Plains in the 1930s. [From http://www.perryton.com/black.htm]

"Borger reported the storm struck at 6:15 PM; Amarillo at 7:20 PM; Boise City, Oklahoma, at 5:35 PM; and Dalhart at 5:15 PM."  Ochiltree County Herald (Perryton TX), 18 April 1935. [Other reports suggest the actual time in Boise City was more likely 4:35 PM.]

"Some People Thought the End of the World was at Hand when Every Trace of Daylight was Obliterated at 4:00 PM." Liberal News, 15 April 1935.

"The Worst I Ever Seen." Northwest Oklahoman (Shattuck), 16 April 1935.

"Worst dust storm ever known in this country on 14 of April."  Observer, Beaver OK.

"When dust obscures sun, is it 'cloudy?'"  Observer, Pampa TX.

"...A huge cloud of black top soil swooped down upon Laverne in the manner of a heavy cloud flattening out upon the earth and spread absolute darkness the like of which has never been experienced by most Harper county folk." The Leader Tribune, Laverne, 18 April 1935.

"...a great black bank rolled in out of the northeast, and in a twinkling when it struck Liberal, plunged everything into inky blackness, worse than that on any midnight, when there is at least some starlight and outlines of objects can be seen.  When the storm struck it was impossible to see one's hand before his face even two inches away.  And it was several minutes before any trace of daylight whatsoever returned." Liberal News, 15 April 1935.

"The billowing black cloud struck Amarillo at 7:20 o'clock and visibility was zero for 12 minutes." Amarillo Daily News, 15 April 1935 (from the Associated Press).

"Mr. Williamson... had mounted a horse and was headed toward the fire when he met this great dust cloud, and was enveloped in darkness. The electrical current was so strong that it snapped from ear to ear on his bronco, and the cow chips ignited by the fire would roll hundreds of yards kindling the grass as they rolled and burned." Panhandle Herald, Guymon, 15 April 1935.

 "Now, as we recall that day, we are glad that we were eye-witnesses to perhaps the most awe-inspiring and majestic upheaval of Nature that ever occurred in this section of the United States." Pauline Winkler Grey, The Black Sunday of April 14, 1935.  Kansas Historical Society.

"The wind was travelling at a speed of sixty miles an hour; when it struck, visibility was reduced to zero for a period of twenty minutes, after which time visibility was limited to ten feet or less, lasting for forty-five minutes, then visibility increased to fifty feet or more at sporadic intervals and thereafter gradually increasing until normal nightfall." U. S. Government Weather Bureau at Dodge City KS.  From The Black Sunday of April 14, 1935. Kansas Historical Society.

"It was as though the sky was divided into two opposite worlds.  On the south there was blue sky, golden sunlight and tranquility; on the north, there was a menacing curtain of boiling black dust that appeared to reach a thousand or more feet into the air. It had the appearance of a mammoth waterfall in reverse – color as well as form.  The apex of the cloud was plumed and curling, seething and tumbling over itself from north to south and whipping trash, papers, sticks, and cardboard cartons before it.  Even the birds were helpless in the turbulent onslaught and dipped and dived without benefit of wings as the wind propelled them.  As the wall of dust and sand struck our house the sun was instantly blotted out completely.  Gravel particles clattered against the windows and pounded down on the roof.  The floor shook with the impact of the wind, and the rafters creaked threateningly.  We stood in our living room in pitch blackness.  We were stunned.  Never had we been in such all-enveloping blackness before, such impenetrable gloom."  Pauline Winkler Grey, The Black Sunday of April 14, 1935.  Kansas Historical Society.

"Tommy Peckham lost his way in the storm and stopped to knock on a door. 'Mr. (Loefbourrow),' he said, 'This is Tommy Peckham and I'm lost. May I come in?' He was at home and didn't know it.  Forgan Advocate, 18 April 1935.

"Residents of the southwestern dust bowl marked up another black duster today and wondered how long it would be before another one came along." Associated Press, Lubbock Evening Journal, 15 April 1935. (Probably written by Robert Geiger; may be the first appearance of "dust bowl.")

Cooperative Observer Forms – Comments

  • Altus: "Numerous dust storms"
  • Alva:  "Dust storms 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 25, 26, 28, 30"
  • Arnett (14th): "Dust storm 5PM vis zero" (15th): "Dust storm at night" [observation time 7PM]
  • Beaver: "Worst dust storm ever known in this country on 14 of April"
  • Buffalo: "We had just a few days the dust was not blowing" 
  • Camargo (14th) "Dust storm 6PM"
  • Canadian TX (14th): [very hard to read] "Black (?) rolling in at...(???)"  Remarks: "Continuation of dust dirt sand from (??) through month of Apr. Nothing like it ...(??)... on record."
  • Canton (14th-15th): "Dust storm"
  • Chandler: "Worst dust storm of the season started at 4 PM April 10th blew all night and all day the 11th. Gardens are fine."
  • Chattanooga: "You will note I put in 3 days of dust.  Honest I could not tell if it was cloudy or not, dust was all I could see so I put it down." 15th: "Dust storm PM" [ob time 7 PM?]
  • Childress TX: "Excessive dust storms throughout the entire month-"
  • Cloud Chief (15th): "Sand storm night" [ob time 6PM]
  • Dalhart TX: "Very dry with heavy soil blowing.  Much of the time the sun has been hidden by dust clouds"
  • Enid: "Dust = 9th – 10th bad – 11 – 13 – 14th bad -15 – 16 – 17 – 25 – 26 bad –"
  • Erick (14th): "Dust storm at 7PM"
  • Follett TX: Dry and dusty with plenty of wind." (14th): "DUST STORM"
  • Fort Reno: "Dust storms 9, 10, 11, 15, 25, 26" (15th): "Severe dust storm night" [ob time 4:00 PM]
  • Guthrie: "Dust storm on the 10th & 11 visibility 200 yds and on the 26th"
  • Hammon: "Sand storm" (9th-14th)
  • Hennessey (14th) "Dust storm from NW at 6 PM" [ob time 6 PM]
  • Hobart: "Much dust but scarcely any erosion"
  • Hooker: "Most of month was very severe electric dust storms. Elect (?) and lack of moisture has killed about all the wheat." (14th) "430 severe dust storm" (15th): Bad dust storm"
  • Jefferson (14th): Dust storm [ob time 4PM]
  • Kenton: "The month was slightly warm and very dry.  It was the driest April in history of Weather Bureau.  It was probably one of the windiest months on record.  Sandstorms and Dust Storms prevailed on at least 17 days to a marked (?) extent.  Severe Dust Storm April 14th caused the afternoon to turn as dark as darkest possible night."
  • Kingfisher: "14 – Gale dust hit at 6 PM"
  • Lawton: "Terrific dust storm beginning afternoon of 10th continued through the 11th and during night of 11th" [no mention of dust on 14th]
  • Lubbock: "The month continued dry warm with 23 days in which sand and duststorms were recorded. No planting can be attempted until it rains."
  • Munday TX: (14th) "Worst sand storm of season"
  • Pampa TX:  "Recurring dusters.  Little soil damage; wheat dying." (14th) "duster" Side note: "When dust obscures sun, is it 'cloudy?'"
  • Perryton TX "Extremely dry. No wheat."
  • Ponca City (14th): "dusty"
  • Spearman TX: "14th 515 PM Bad Sandstorm from NE... Fields all damaged by blowing – " (14th): "Clear until 515 PM"
  • Stratford TX: "The 14th another duster black as night at 5:40.  Stayed so for 20 minutes then got so you could see about 10 feet away and stayed so all night." (14th): "Worst dust storm"
  • Vernon TX (15th): "Sand Storm"
  • Waukomis (14th): "Dust storm at 530 PM" [ob time 6 PM]

Notes

  • This also was Palm Sunday 1935.
  • Temperatures on the morning of the 13th were the coldest of the month in many areas; they were followed roughly 36 hours later by the warmest/hottest readings of the month just ahead of the dust storm, on the afternoon/evening of the 14th.
  • Dust storms were commonly referred to as "dusters" at the time.  The terms "Dust Storm," "Sand Storm," and "Duster" all appeared regularly, and sometimes interchangeably, in accounts of the event.  Interestingly, "norther" was rarely used, and "black norther" has not been encountered in any of the accounts.
  • The speed of the dust cloud, from all accounts, was between 50 and 60 MPH as it moved through southwestern KS and the OK-TX panhandles.
  • Accounts all agree that day quickly turned into darkest night as it hit, but the period of total darkness was fairly brief – less than an hour, and as little as 12 minutes (Amarillo account).
  • It is generally established that the term "Dust Bowl" originated from the events of Black Sunday.  A news article, from the Associated Press, began, "Residents of the southwestern dust bowl marked up another black duster today..." [emphasis added].  This is believed to be the first usage of the term.  The article is credited to Robert Geiger, who was caught in the dust storm with photographer Harry Eisenhand, in a vehicle 6 miles north of Boise City.  It appeared in the Lubbock Evening Journal on 15 April.  Another article, also attributed to "an Associated Press reporter" and also issued the day after Black Sunday, included, "Three little words, achingly familiar on the Western farmer's tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent – 'if it rains'."
  • There are several reports indicating that static electricity, generated by the dust particles, disrupted the ignition systems of motor vehicles.

Other Phrases and Terms

  • Black Duster
  • Black Blizzard
  • Black Roller
  • Norther
  • Dirt Storm

Arrival Times

Liberal KS 4:00 PM (Liberal News; from NE)
Alva (10 S) 4:00 PM ("about;" Texhoma Times)
Beaver 4:00 PM ("about;" Forgan Advocate, 18 April 1935; from N)
Harper Co. OK 4:00-4:30 PM (Harper County Journal; north wind)
Laverne 4:20 PM (Leader Tribune, Laverne, 18 April 1935)
Hooker 4:30 PM (observer)
Woodward 4:30 PM (Daily Oklahoman)
Medford 4:50 PM (Grant County Journal; from NW)
Shattuck 5:00 PM (Northwest Oklahoman)
Arnett 5:00 PM (observer)
Vici 5:00 PM (Vici Beacon, 18 April 1935; from N)
Perryton TX 5:00 PM (Ochiltree County Herald; from N)
Canadian TX 5:00-6:00 PM
Boise City 5:15 PM (Boise City News, 18 Apr 1935), 5:35 PM, (Ochiltree County Herald)
Spearman 5:15 PM (observer; from NE)
Dalhart 5:15 PM (Ochiltree County Herald) (5:55 PM or 85 min. before Amarillo - Amarillo Daily News)
Kenton 5:20 PM (Boise City News, 18 Apr 1935)
Waukomis 5:30 PM (observer)
Stratford TX 5:40 PM (observer)
Hammon 5:45 PM (Daily Oklahoman; from NW)
Texhoma 5:45 PM (Texhoma Times, 18 April 1935; from NE)
Camargo 6:00 PM (observer)
Hennessey 6:00 PM (observer; from NW)
Kingfisher 6:00 PM (observer)
Borger TX 6:15 PM (Ochiltree County Herald)
Stinnett TX 6:35 PM (45 min. before Amarillo; Amarillo Daily News)
Erick 7:00 PM (observer)
Oklahoma City 7:15 PM (Daily Oklahoman)
Amarillo 7:20 PM (Ochiltree County Herald; Amarillo Daily News; Northwest Oklahoman
Wichita Falls 9:45 PM (Amarillo Daily News)

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