Animated Map: U.S. Droughts Over the Last 20 Years
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Animated Map: U.S. Droughts Over the Last 20 Years

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Animated Map: U.S. Droughts Over the Last 20 Years

The Western U.S. is experiencing one of the worst recorded droughts in the last 20 years.

Temperatures from California to the Dakotas are currently hovering around 9-12°F above average—but how bad is the situation compared to past years?

This animated map by reddit user /NothingAbnormalHere provides a historical look at droughts in the U.S. since 1999, using data and graphics from the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM).

What is the U.S. Drought Monitor?

Over the last two decades, the USDM has been tracking, measuring, and comparing droughts across America.

While droughts can be difficult to classify and standardize, there are various factors that can be used to gauge when a region is experiencing drought. These include measurements of snowpack levels, soil moisture, and recent precipitation.

To track these conditions (and make sense of them), the USDM synthesizes data from a plethora of meteorological sources, including the Palmer Drought Severity Index and the Standardized Precipitation Index.

From there, conditions are broken down into categories, ranging from D0 (abnormally dry) to D4 (Exceptional Drought). A map is released each week that shows which states are experiencing drought, and to what degree.

Where Are The Most Drought-Prone Areas?

According to a map created by climatologist Becky Bolinger (which is published on Drought.gov), Arizona and Nevada are the most historically drought-prone states—the two have experienced drought more than 50% of the time tracked by the USDM.

Most Drought-Prone States

California is high on the list as well, with the state experiencing drought at least 40% of the time.

As the historical data shows, the West is no stranger to droughts. However, this year’s drought has become particularly worrisome because of its intensity and breadth.

Right now, more than a quarter of the West is experiencing a D4 level drought—a new record. To help put things into perspective, here’s a look at how much overall land area in the West has been in drought, since 2000:

West Percent Area in U.S. Drought

When a region is experiencing a D4 drought, possible impacts include:

  • Water Scarcity
    Lower reservoirs, combined with decreased snowpack lead to water shortages.
  • Crop losses
    Water shortages mean less water for fields, which can lead to acres of fallow (unused) farmland.
  • Wildfires
    Dry conditions and lack of moisture increase the risk of wildfires.

Is This the New Norm?

This record-breaking drought is wreaking havoc across the West. In California, reservoirs have about half as much water as they usually do, and crop failures are happening across Colorado.

The worst part? Some experts believe that this could be the new normal if human-driven climate change continues to increase average temperatures across the globe.

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Agriculture

Which Countries Produce the Most Wheat?

Global wheat production is concentrated in just a handful of countries. Here’s a look at the top wheat-producing countries worldwide.

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Visualizing Global Wheat Production by Country (2000-2020)

Wheat is a dietary staple for millions of people around the world.

After rice and corn (maize), wheat is the third most-produced cereal worldwide, and the second-most-produced for human consumption. And considering wheat’s importance in the global food system, any impact on major producers such as droughts, wars, or other events, can impact the entire world.

Which countries are the largest producers of wheat? This graphic by Kashish Rastogi visualizes the breakdown of 20 years of global wheat production by country.

Top 10 Wheat Producing Countries

While more than 80 different countries produce wheat around the world, the majority of global wheat production comes from just a handful of countries, according to data from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Here’s a look at the top 10 wheat-producing countries worldwide, based on total yield in tonnes from 2000-2020:

RankCountryContinentTotal yield (tonnes, 2000-2020)% of total (2000-2020)
#1🇨🇳 ChinaAsia & Oceania2.4 B17.0%
#2🇮🇳 IndiaAsia & Oceania1.8 B12.5%
#3🇷🇺 RussiaAsia & Oceania1.2 B 8.4%
#4🇺🇸 U.S.Americas1.2 B 8.4%
#5🇫🇷 FranceEurope767 M 5.4%
#6🇨🇦 CanadaAmericas571 M 4.0%
#7🇩🇪 GermanyEurope491 M3.5%
#8🇵🇰 PakistanAsia & Oceania482 M3.4%
#9🇦🇺 AustraliaAsia & Oceania456 M3.2%
#10🇺🇦 UkraineEurope433 M3.1%

China, the world’s largest wheat producer, has yielded more than 2.4 billion tonnes of wheat over the last two decades, making up roughly 17% of total production from 2000-2020.

A majority of China’s wheat is used domestically to help meet the country’s rising food demand. China is the world’s largest consumer of wheat—in 2020/2021, the country accounted for approximately 19% of global wheat consumption.

The second-largest wheat-producing country is India. Over the last two decades, India has produced 12.5% of the world’s wheat. Like China, India keeps most of its wheat domestic because of significant food demand across the country.

Russia, the world’s third-largest wheat producer, is also the largest global exporter of wheat. The country exported more than $7.3 billion worth of wheat in 2021, accounting for approximately 13.1% of total wheat exports that year.

Russia-Ukraine Impact on Global Wheat Market

Because Russia and Ukraine are both significant global wheat producers, the ongoing conflict between the two countries has caused massive disruptions to the global wheat market.

The conflict has had an impact on adjacent industries as well. For instance, Russia is one of the world’s major fertilizer suppliers, and the conflict has led to a global fertilizer shortage which could lead to food shortages worldwide.

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Agriculture

Timeline: The Domestication of Animals

This graphic shows a timeline of when 15 different animals became domesticated, based on archaeological findings.

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Timeline: The Domestication of Animals

While dogs weren’t always our docile companions, research indicates that they were likely one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans. In fact, genetic evidence suggests that dogs split from their wild wolf ancestors around 33,000 years ago.

When did humans domesticate other animals, and why? This timeline highlights the domestication period of 15 different animals, based on archeological findings.

Because exact timing is tricky to pinpoint and research on the topic is ongoing, these estimates may vary by thousands of years.

Defining Domestic

The domestication of animals is a particular process that’s done through selective breeding. Generally speaking, domestic animals follow most of these criteria:

  1. Genetically distinct from their wild ancestors and more human-friendly as a genetic trait.
  2. Dependent on humans for food and reproduction.
  3. They’re extremely difficult or impossible to breed with wild counterparts.
  4. Show the physical traits of domestication syndrome, such as smaller skulls, floppy ears, or coat color variations.

Domestication is not the same as taming an animal, which is when humans condition wild animals to live in captivity.

While some research suggests that domestic animals can prosper in the wild, domestic animals are typically more susceptible to predators since they lack some of the advantages, instincts, or traits that help their wild counterparts survive in nature.

Key Reasons for the Domestication of Animals

Humans domesticate animals for a number of reasons: some have been domesticated for food, work, companionship, or a combination of all three.

After dogs, livestock animals such as sheep, cows, and pigs are thought to have been some of the first animals to become domesticated by humans. This was around the same time that humanity shifted from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to an agricultural society.

Domesticated AnimalPrimary TypeEstimated Domestication PeriodOrigin
DogPet13,000–34,000 BCEEurasia
SheepLivestock9,000 BCEMiddle East
GoatLivestock8,500 BCEMiddle East
PigLivestock8,300 BCEMiddle East
CowLivestock8,300 BCEMiddle East
CatPet7,500 BCEMiddle East
Zebu (Humped Cow)Livestock6,000 BCESouth Asia
LlamaLivestock4,000 BCESouth America
HorseWork3,500 BCECentral Asia
AlpacaLivestock3,000 BCESouth America
Bactrian Camel (two-humped)Work2,500 BCECentral Asia
ChickenLivestock2,000 BCEEast Asia/Middle East
Arabian Camel (one-humped)Work1,000 BCEMiddle East
TurkeyLivestock0 CENorth America
DuckLivestock1,000 CEEast Asia/Middle East

Horses are thought to be some of the first animals domesticated for work. Scientific research suggests that the modern horse originated in Central Asia, and were selectively bred for their exceptional back strength and overall resilience.

When it comes to domesticating animals, herbivores (like cows) are generally the easiest to convert because they’re easier to feed than animals that rely on meats or grains, which need to be sourced or domesticated themselves.

Domestication Has Shaped Modern Humanity

The domestication of species has helped create our modern society. Domesticating plants and animals created a world with stable food production, which enabled the human population to boom worldwide.

This is because agriculture meant fewer people could provide more food to humans on a mass scale, so people had more time to focus on other things like creative pursuits, scientific research, etc. This gave us time to create tools that helped boost efficiencies in farming and agriculture, leading to the world as we know it today.

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