Previous Lobby Exhibit

Major Droughts in Modern Texas

A Cycle of Drought and Flood

In his account of his epic adventure in the early 1500s, Cabeza de Vaca, the first European to explore Texas, reported Indians near present-day Presidio praying for rain. Drought has been a constant threat to human prosperity in the Texas landscape. Each decade since 1822, the year that Stephen F. Austin established the first American settlement in Texas, the state has seen at least one period of severe drought.

A slow-motion disaster, drought brings a host of plagues to Texas life, including grasshoppers, wildfires, dust storms, crop failures, livestock deaths, and economic hardship. The historic drought of the 1950s – the worst ever recorded in Texas – forced so many Texans off the land that it permanently transformed Texas from a rural to an urban state. 

Texas has an arid climate in the best of times. For this reason, and because of their extreme nature, most Texas droughts cannot be ended through the resumption of normal rainfall, but through one or more tremendous rain events. The drought of the 1950s provides a spectacular example. April 24, 1957 – later known as “The Day of the Big Cloud” – saw a storm dump 10 inches of rain on a large portion of Texas within a few hours, accompanied by destructive hail and multiple tornadoes. The rain did not cease for 32 days. The floods killed 22 people and forced thousands from their homes.

Major Droughts in Modern Texas

1917-1918 Native grasses are so severely damaged that invasive species permanently take over many areas. The federal government sends 1400 boxcars to evacuate starving Texas cattle.

1925 High temperatures and low rainfall set records for the worst one-year drought that stand for the next 86 years.

1930-1936 Dust Bowl drought leads to staggering economic losses and displaces thousands from the land. Amarillo experiences an average of nine dust storms per month every spring.

1950-57 Catastrophic drought lasts for years and galvanizes Texas into scientific water planning, with 1950s conditions enshrined as the “drought of record” (meaning, the worst-case scenario).

1971 Severe drought destroys wheat and cotton crop and kills 100,000 cattle. In areas of north Texas, only a single inch of rainfall is received for the entire year. The Red River goes dry. 

2010-2011 Hottest, driest one-year period ever recorded in Texas.

Drivers who took their chances crossing the dry river bed didn’t always make it and had to be hauled out by tow trucks.

This 1951 photo shows what happened after the Texas Highway Department closed a bridge on the Canadian River near Pampa that had become too dangerous to use. Drivers who took their chances crossing the dry river bed didn’t always make it and had to be hauled out by tow trucks. Texas Highway Department Historical Records.

Drought has been a constant threat to human prosperity in the Texas landscape.

In his account of his epic adventure in the early 1500s, Cabeza de Vaca, the first European to explore Texas, reported Indians near present-day Presidio praying for rain. Drought has been a constant threat to human prosperity in the Texas landscape. Each decade since 1822, the year that Stephen F. Austin established the first American settlement in Texas, the state has seen at least one period of severe drought. A slow-motion disaster, drought brings a host of plagues to Texas life, including grasshoppers, wildfires, dust storms, crop failures, livestock deaths, and economic hardship. The historic drought of the 1950s – the worst ever recorded in Texas – forced so many Texans off the land that it permanently transformed Texas from a rural to an urban state. Prints and Photographs Collection.

Please Visit

This page offers only a sampling of what you will find in this exhibit. To learn more and to view these historical documents and photographs please visit our lobby in the Lorenzo de Zavala State Library and Archives Building located just east of the Texas State Capitol at 1201 Brazos Street in Austin. The lobby is open from Mon-Fri 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Map.

Page last modified: February 21, 2014