Joe Wertz

Joe has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

'Black Sunday' Revisited

Apr 14, 2015
State Impact-Oklahoma

On April 14, 1935, a rolling mountain of dust and sand swept through Oklahoma, choked out the sun and filled homes with dirt piles so high residents had to clean their homes with shovels.Survivors of the storm met today at the state Capitol to mark the eightieth anniversary of “Black Sunday.”

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon near the town of Forgan in Oklahoma’s Panhandle. Pauline Hodges was five at the time. She and her mother were visiting a neighbor when her friend’s father ran up to the backdoor and yelled:

Rainfall totals in southwest Oklahoma are more than 3 inches below normal. And that means that the wheat crop grown in brothers Fred and Wayne Schmedt's farm is several inches shorter than normal as well.

Laughter is key to surviving as a farmer here. Fred Schmedt looks out on his field, then down at his legs and laughs at how short the wheat stalks are.

"What would you call that, high-shoe-top high?" he says. "In a normal year — a really good year — it'd be thigh-high. So we're looking at plants that are 6 to 8 inches tall versus 24 to 30 inches tall."

For the past three decades, Oklahoma averaged about 50 earthquakes a year. But that number has skyrocketed in the past few years. In 2013 — the state's most seismically active year ever — there were almost 3,000.

The quakes are small, and they're concentrated in the central part of the state, where the Erwins live.

The results of a statewide survey released Thursday show 62 percent of Oklahoma’s 1,804 public schools don’t have storm shelters, and only 15 percent have shelters built to withstand the 250 mph winds of an EF5 tornado, like the ones that swept through central Oklahoma in May 2013.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ravaged crops and helped plunge the U.S. into an environmental and economic depression. Farmland in parts of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas disappeared.

After the howling winds passed and the dust settled, federal foresters planted 100 million trees across the Great Plains, forming a giant windbreak — known as a shelterbelt — that stretched from Texas to Canada.

Now, those trees are dying from drought, leaving some to worry whether another Dust Bowl might swirl up again.

An Experiment That Worked

On Tuesday, Oklahoma and Texas will face off in the U.S. Supreme Court. The winner gets water. And this is not a game.

The court will hear oral arguments in the case of Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, et al. The case pits Oklahoma against Texas over rights to water from the river that forms part of the border between them. Depending on how the court decides, it could impact interstate water-sharing agreements across the country.

Keeping Up With Texas