Five Years Of Drought: A Look At The U.S. Water Shortage

Up until recently, the Southwestern portion of the United States had been dealing with a water shortage crisis. Using data collected by David Miskus and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the USDA, and NOAA, John Nelson created a startling series of maps combining the 285 weeks of collective data to show the varying degrees of drought in the United States. Unlike the weekly maps released by the U.S. Drought Monitor, “Five Years of Drought” aggregates four degrees of drought intensity in the U.S. from January of 2011 through June of 2016.

drought/water shortage map

The drought levels are characterized as follows:

D1 (least intense):

  • Some damage to crops, pastures
  • Streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent
  • Voluntary water-use restrictions requested


  • Crop or pasture losses likely
  • Water shortages common
  • Water restrictions imposed


  • Major crop/pasture losses
  • Widespread water shortages or restrictions

D4 (most intense):

  • Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses
  • Shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies


Although these maps only depict the water shortages over the past five years, there are plenty of places in the United States that have been experiencing non-stop drought conditions for over five years, which affects the area’s hydrology and ecosystem.

Each dot on the map proportionally represents the amount of time an area has spent in drought with the largest dots symbolizing 80% – 100% of the time. The color of each dot represents the severity of the drought, deep purple indicating consistent D4 severity.

Read more about the maps and the process of making them here. You can also check out a follow-up Nelson made: Six Months of Drought in the American Southeast.

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