A Time Lapse View of the Drought Collected From Satellites

It’s been a common refrain in the Midwest this year: If only we could pipe all this rain to the West. But a new NASA visualization shows just how drastic the difference has been.


Last year, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a project called Global Precipitation Management that uses 12 satellites to create a precipitation map that spans the entire globe—according to NASA, that’s a first, and it allows scientists the vital data they need in studying global weather patterns. The system uses both microwave measurement and radar to figure out exactly how storm systems move across the globe—and even how these systems look in three dimensions, like this incredible 3D view of a typhoon.

Today, the agency released a video that shows just over six months of precipitation data across the continental US, ending in the middle of July As the days tick down, you can see the entire Midwest—and most of the East Coast—racking up huge amounts of rainfall. Meanwhile, pretty much everything west of the Continental Divide and south of the Pacific Northwest stays crystal clear.

It’s the kind of data visualization that might seem obvious to anyone on the ground—sure, it rained so much this summer! Or yes, of course we’re in a historic drought! But is actually pretty remarkable considering the ultra-precise rainfall readings were gathered via a network of a dozen satellites orbiting miles above the Earth. It’s a grim video, but the perspective is amazing.

Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.


Michael Crider

The color is awkward - orange and reds show high levels of rainfall, not a lack of rain or of intense heat, as you might expect. The result is that the current situation in the US is exactly the opposite of what you’d think it is from a quick glance at the animation.

They should have visualized this with blue instead.