FDR's Weather Machine

Ben Kirchner
Ben Kirchner / Ben Kirchner

Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t a president who took climate change lightly. Just look at his answer to the Dust Bowl—the series of massive dust storms that ravaged the American heartland in the early 1930s. Instead of accepting the weather as something he couldn’t control, FDR took a page from the supervillain playbook and issued an executive order authorizing the Prairie States Forestry Project. By strategically planting trees at the edges of farms, the U.S. Forest Service built a low-tech weather machine that slowed down howling winds, which in turn alleviated the drought and erosion that prompted the Dust Bowl.

Trees were planted in a 100-mile-wide band that stretched from Texas to Canada, and farmers collaborated with the Works Progress Administration to plant intermittent 100-foot swaths of trees and shrubs. Despite the project’s daunting scale, FDR’s effort was an incredible success. As the vegetation grew, it blocked the winds, and the soil became arable again. By the time the project wound down in 1942, foresters had dotted 18,600 miles of farmland with 220 million trees, many of which are still standing. The next time you’re driving through the center of the country and see a lonely stand of trees on the edge of a field, doff your cap. They’re doing their part to stave off an environmental disaster.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. You can get a free issue here.