The weather of North America's East Coast was surprising enough to the first European colonists, what with frigid winters, torrid summers, and the occasional hurricane. But the white settlers who followed were really in for a meteorological shock when they pushed West into the Great Plains.
Hi I'm Dave Thurlow and this is the Weather Notebook.
Since the Dakotas were at about the same latitude as New England, pioneers expected same weather in the west. They were wrong. Instead, they got tornadoes and hailstorms, winters that made Boston look toasty, ceaseless winds and fitful rains that sometimes failed altogether.
Rain was the element of Western weather that created the deepest misconception. Settlers were lured to the Plain states by bogus claims that "rain follows the plow." They came in droves during the unusually moist 1870s, only to see their farms dry up and blow away when a ten-year drought struck in the 1880s. "There is no god west of Salina," concluded one drought-defeated farmer as he, and thousands of others, packed up and moved on.
The hard luck in those harsh years stemmed from the natural cycle of alternating wet and dry periods. But it also resulted from the all-too-human desire to believe what we want to believe, and make others believe it too, especially if there's money in it. Today, we do know a lot more about weather conditions in the western half of the country than those unfortunate 19th century farmers did, but in some ways we still haven't accepted the fact that weather in the West is as wild as ever extreme, sometimes violent, and highly unlikely to behave the way we want it to.