Date of this Version
Published in Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, edited by David J. Wishart, pp. 852–853 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).
Drought is a normal feature of the climate for virtually all portions of the United States and some portions of Canada, but it is one of the defining characteristics of the North American Great Plains. Early maps referred to this region as the Great American Desert, a belief attributed to the explorations of Zebulon Pike across the Southern Plains in 1806 and of Stephen Long across the Central Plains in 1819–20. The drought of the 1890s and, in particular, the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s define the region’s climatic past. More recently, droughts have occurred at regular intervals, affecting, at one time or another, all portions of the region.