Texas Primer: The Dust Storm

When all of Texas seems about to blow away, the best defense is a sense of humor.

True grit. Pioneers who didn’t have it before their first sandstorm certainly did after. That’s why cowboys said a spunky fellow had sand. Though rarely lethal, sandstorms are universally despised. Nothing can keep out flying sand—not closed windows, not bandannas, not prayer. (Wet rags under the door help, but not much.) Sandstorms spell trouble. An 1895 storm blew down section houses along the Texas and Pacific Railway tracks. A sixties spate of “Oklahoma rain” chased by a blizzard dumped brown snow across the High Plains. A pair of 1977 dust storms ruined $6 million worth of winter wheat in the Panhandle and injured twenty people in El Paso. With Texas one of thirty states now stricken by drought, new tales may be on the way.

Any Texan can tell you a sandstorm story. Native writers appreciated its drama. Tom Lea set the opening chapter of The Wonderful Country in one, and in Lonesome Dove green cowhand Newt suffered baptism by sand on his second day up the trail. The gutless heroine of Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 novel, The Wind, hated the sand: “Her eyes smarted with it … her throat choked with it … When she lay down at night her pillow was scratchy with its covering of sand, she could feel the grains crawling inside her clothing like vermin.”

Wind is, of course, the moving force behind a sandstorm. When north winds howl into Texas, they displace rising hot air and snatch up any loose soil in their path. The stronger and faster the


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