One late winter day in 1933, heavy clouds gathered over No Man’s Land. They dumped layers of dust, covering Boise City. The temperature fell more than seventy degrees in less than a day in February 1933, and the dust still blew around. March and April 1933 were the worst months of the year—“a two-month block of steady wind throwing fine-grained dirt at the High Plains.” The freezing weather had killed what little wheat people had managed to plant in the fall. Fred Folkers spent most of his day shoveling dust, and knew that he would lose his orchard. At the end of April, with no green left on the land and no rain overhead, one dust storm lasted for twenty hours.
The region experienced unnatural extremes of weather that made it impossible to grow crops. The only task that people performed on their farms was the shoveling of dust, a problem that required constant attention. The dust storms had not only disrupted the weather patterns but also people’s patterns of life. As Egan describes it, activity that had previously revolved around farming now revolved around controlling dust.
On May 6, Charles Lindbergh flew into the “corrosive air space” of the Southern Plains while trying to cross the Texas Panhandle. He seemed frightened by the dust storms. On another day in late May, dark clouds were back. They looked like rain clouds, but they brought “hard brown globs of moisture.” Then, a funnel cloud appeared. At the end of the summer, another tornado appeared “at the southern edge of No Man’s Land.” The High Plains was soon in ruins, and farmers sent a distress telegram to Congress. Others left their farms, joining the exodus of tenant farmers from other parts of the plains. Meanwhile, Hazel Lucas Shaw had an announcement for her husband, Charles: she was pregnant.
Though the plains had become “dark” and “corrosive,” Hazel would introduce the light and hope into her family that she believed a new life would provide. The plains, meanwhile, were assaulted by one natural disaster after another. Farmers were not only going broke but were also in imminent danger. Some left their farms and moved west, hoping to find new opportunities in California. Hazel, on the other hand, wanted a reason to remain rooted in No Man’s Land.