"This is the story of the greatest man-made ecological disaster in American history," Burns said, "a 10-year apocalypse punctuated by hundreds of black blizzards that killed farmers' crops and cattle and their children, too."
Burns said "The Dust Bowl" is more of an oral history than his past films with fewer historians and more interviews with people who lived through the period, including Cal Crabill, a Dust Bowl survivor who saw an ad Burns ran on PBS stations a few years ago seeking survivors for his documentary.
Timothy Egan, author of 2006's Dust Bowl book "The Worst Hard Times," said he found that the grandchildren of people who lived through the Dust Bowl didn't believe them, so the survivors stopped talking about it.
"When you ask them about the story and they start talking about it again, it was a gusher," he said. "You almost couldn't get them to shut up because they really wanted to tell this story."
Burns said stories about the Dust Bowl often include a standard, vivid description: "Almost everyone we talked to, without any prompting from us, describes a story where grandma said, 'It’s the end of the world.'"