Geography of the United States

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Geography of The United States
USA topo en.jpg
Continent North America
Coordinates 38°00′00″N97°00′00″W / 38.000°N 97.000°W / 38.000; -97.000
Area Ranked 3rd
  Total9,826,675 km2 (3,794,100 sq mi)
  Land93.24%
  Water6.76%
Coastline19,920 km (12,380 mi)
Borders Canada: 8,864 km (5,508 mi)
Mexico: 3,327 km (2,067 mi)
Highest point Denali
6,190.5 m (20,310 ft)
Lowest point Badwater Basin,
−85 m (−279 ft)
Longest river Missouri River,
3,767 km (2,341 mi)
Largest lake Lake Superior
58,000 km2 (22,394 sq mi)
ClimateDiverse: Ranges from Temperate in the North to Tropical in the far south. West: mostly semi-arid to desert, Mountains: alpine, Northeast: humid continental, Southeast: humid subtropical, Coast of California: Mediterranean, Pacific Northwest: cool temperate oceanic, Alaska: mostly subarctic, Hawaii, South Florida, and the territories: tropical
TerrainVast central plain, Interior Highlands and low mountains in Midwest, mountains and valleys in the mid-south, coastal flatland near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, complete with mangrove forests and temperate, subtropical, and tropical laurel forest and jungle, canyons, basins, plateus, and mountains in west, hills and low mountains in east; intermittent hilly and mountainous regions in Great Plains, with occasional badland topography; rugged mountains and broad river valleys in Alaska; rugged, volcanic topography in Hawaii and the territories
Natural Resourcescoal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, rare earth elements, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, timber, arable land
Natural Hazardstsunamis; volcanoes; earthquake activity around Pacific Basin; hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts; tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast; mud slides in California; forest fires in the west; flooding; permafrost in northern Alaska
Environmental Issuessevere water shortages, air pollution resulting in acid rain in both the US and Canada
Exclusive economic zone11,351,000 km2 (4,383,000 sq mi)

The term "United States", when used in the geographical sense, is the contiguous United States, the state of Alaska, the island state of Hawaii, the five insular territories of Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa, and minor outlying possessions. [1] The United States shares land borders with Canada and Mexico and maritime borders with Russia, Cuba, and the Bahamas in addition to Canada and Mexico. The northern border of the United States with Canada is the world's longest bi-national land border.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe, which is 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Contiguous United States 48 states of the United States apart from Alaska and Hawaii

The contiguous United States or officially the conterminous United States consists of the 48 adjoining U.S. states on the continent of North America. The terms exclude the non-contiguous states of Alaska and Hawaii, and all other off-shore insular areas, such as American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico. These differ from the related term continental United States which includes Alaska but excludes the Hawaiian Islands and unincorporated U.S. territories in the Caribbean.

Alaska U.S. state in the United States

Alaska is a U.S. state in the northwest extremity of the United States West Coast, just across the Bering Strait from Asia. The Canadian province of British Columbia and territory of Yukon border the state to the east and southeast. Its most extreme western part is Attu Island, and it has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. It is the largest U.S. state by area and the seventh largest subnational division in the world. In addition, it is the 3rd least populous and the most sparsely populated of the 50 United States; nevertheless, it is by far the most populous territory located mostly north of the 60th parallel in North America: its population—estimated at 738,432 by the United States Census Bureau in 2015— is more than quadruple the combined populations of Northern Canada and Greenland. Approximately half of Alaska's residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska's economy is dominated by the fishing, natural gas, and oil industries, resources which it has in abundance. United States armed forces bases and tourism are also a significant part of the economy.

Contents

Area

From 1989 through 1996, the total area of the US was listed as 9,372,610 km2 (3,618,780 sq mi) (land + inland water only). The listed total area changed to 9,629,091 km2 (3,717,813 sq mi) in 1997 (Great Lakes area and coastal waters added), to 9,631,418 km2 (3,718,711 sq mi) in 2004, to 9,631,420 km2 (3,718,710 sq mi) in 2006, and to 9,826,630 km2 (3,794,080 sq mi) in 2007 (territorial waters added). Currently, the CIA World Factbook gives 9,826,675 km2 (3,794,100 sq mi), [2] the United Nations Statistics Division gives 9,629,091 km2 (3,717,813 sq mi), [3] and the Encyclopædia Britannica gives 9,522,055 km2 (3,676,486 sq mi)(Great Lakes area included but not coastal waters). [4] These sources consider only the 50 states and the Federal District, and exclude overseas territories. The US has the 2nd largest Exclusive Economic Zone of 11,351,000 km2 (4,383,000 sq mi).

The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), formerly the United Nations Statistical Office, serves under the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) as the central mechanism within the Secretariat of the United Nations to supply the statistical needs and coordinating activities of the global statistical system. The Division is overseen by the United Nations Statistical Commission, established in 1947, as the apex entity of the global statistical system and highest decision making body for coordinating international statistical activities. It brings together the Chief Statisticians from member states from around the world.

By total area (water as well as land), the United States is either slightly larger or smaller than the People's Republic of China, making it the world's third or fourth largest country. China and the United States are smaller than Russia and Canada in total area, but are larger than Brazil. By land area only (exclusive of waters), the United States is the world's third largest country, after Russia and China, with Canada in fourth. Whether the US or China is the third largest country by total area depends on two factors: (1) The validity of China's claim on Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract. Both these territories are also claimed by India, so are not counted; and (2) How US calculates its own surface area. Since the initial publishing of the World Factbook, the CIA has updated the total area of United States a number of times. [5]

Territorial waters Coastal waters that are part of a nation-states sovereign territory

The term territorial waters is sometimes used informally to refer to any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf. In a narrower sense, the term is used as a synonym for the territorial sea.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, or the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is, by a considerable margin, the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.79 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world and the second largest city in Europe; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Its southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Canada's capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

General characteristics

A satellite composite image of the contiguous United States. Deciduous vegetation and grasslands prevail in the east, transitioning to prairies, boreal forests, and the Rockies in the west, and deserts in the southwest. In the northeast, the coasts of the Great Lakes and Atlantic seaboard host much of the country's population. USA-satellite.jpg
A satellite composite image of the contiguous United States. Deciduous vegetation and grasslands prevail in the east, transitioning to prairies, boreal forests, and the Rockies in the west, and deserts in the southwest. In the northeast, the coasts of the Great Lakes and Atlantic seaboard host much of the country's population.
A satellite composite image of the state of Hawaii. Volcanoes prevail on the Big Island. The islands have rugged coastlines, sandy beaches and a tropical environment, although temperatures and humidity tend to be less extreme because of near-constant trade winds from the east. HawaiiGeography.png
A satellite composite image of the state of Hawaii. Volcanoes prevail on the Big Island. The islands have rugged coastlines, sandy beaches and a tropical environment, although temperatures and humidity tend to be less extreme because of near-constant trade winds from the east.

The United States shares land borders with Canada (to the north) and Mexico (to the south), and a territorial water border with Russia in the northwest, and two territorial water borders in the southeast between Florida and Cuba, and Florida and the Bahamas. The contiguous forty-eight states are otherwise bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast. Alaska borders the Pacific Ocean to the south and southwest, the Bering Strait to the west, and the Arctic Ocean to the north, while Hawaii lies far to the southwest of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Atlantic Ocean Ocean between Europe, Africa and the Americas

The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest of the world's oceans, with an area of about 106,460,000 square kilometers. It covers approximately 20 percent of Earth's surface and about 29 percent of its water surface area. It separates the "Old World" from the "New World".

Gulf of Mexico An Atlantic Ocean basin extending into southern North America

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. The U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida border the Gulf on the north, which are often referred to as the "Third Coast", in comparison with the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Forty-eight of the states are in the single region between Canada and Mexico; this group is referred to, with varying precision and formality, as the contiguous United States , and as the Lower 48. Alaska, which is not included in the term continental United States, is located the northwestern end of North America.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

The capital city, Washington, District of Columbia, is a federal district located on land donated by the state of Maryland. (Virginia had also donated land, but it was returned in 1849.) The United States also has overseas territories (Insular areas) with varying levels of independence and organization: in the Caribbean the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in the Pacific the inhabited territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, along with a number of uninhabited island territories. Some of the territories acquired were a part of United States imperialism, or to gain access to the east.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

Maryland U.S. state in the United States

Maryland is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east. The state's largest city is Baltimore, and its capital is Annapolis. Among its occasional nicknames are Old Line State, the Free State, and the Chesapeake Bay State. It is named after the English queen Henrietta Maria, known in England as Queen Mary, who was the wife of King Charles I.

Virginia U.S. state in the United States

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Nearly all of the United States is in the northern hemisphere — the exceptions are American Samoa and Jarvis Island, which are in the southern hemisphere. [6]

Physiographic divisions

Denali, Alaska, the highest point in North America at 20,310 ft (6,190.5 m). MountMcKinley BA.jpg
Denali, Alaska, the highest point in North America at 20,310 ft (6,190.5 m).

The eastern United States has a varied topography. A broad, flat coastal plain lines the Atlantic and Gulf shores from the Texas-Mexico border to New York City, and includes the Florida peninsula. This broad coastal plain and barrier islands make up the widest and longest beaches in the United States, much of it composed of soft, white sands. The Florida Keys are a string of coral islands that reach the southernmost city on the United States mainland (Key West). Areas further inland feature rolling hills, mountains, and a diverse collection of temperate and subtropical moist and wet forests. Parts of interior Florida and South Carolina are also home to sand-hill communities. The Appalachian Mountains form a line of low mountains separating the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Basin. New England features rocky seacoasts and rugged mountains with peaks up to 6200 feet and valleys dotted with rivers and streams. Offshore Islands dot the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The five Great Lakes are located in the north-central portion of the country, four of them forming part of the border with Canada, only Lake Michigan situated entirely within United States. The southeast United States, generally stretching from the Ohio River on south, includes a variety of warm temperate and subtropical moist and wet forests, as well as warm temperate and subtropical dry forests nearer the Great Plains in the west of the region. West of the Appalachians lies the lush Mississippi River basin and two large eastern tributaries, the Ohio River and the Tennessee River. The Ohio and Tennessee Valleys and the Midwest consist largely of rolling hills, interior highlands and small mountains, jungly marsh and swampland near the Ohio River, and productive farmland, stretching south to the Gulf Coast. The Midwest also has a vast amount of cave systems.

The Great Plains lie west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. A large portion of the country's agricultural products are grown in the Great Plains. Before their general conversion to farmland, the Great Plains were noted for their extensive grasslands, from tallgrass prairie in the eastern plains to shortgrass steppe in the western High Plains. Elevation rises gradually from less than a few hundred feet near the Mississippi River to more than a mile high in the High Plains. The generally low relief of the plains is broken in several places, most notably in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, which form the U.S. Interior Highlands, the only major mountainous region between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. [7] [8]

The Great Plains come to an abrupt end at the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains form a large portion of the Western U.S., entering from Canada and stretching nearly to Mexico. The Rocky Mountain region is the highest region of the United States by average elevation. The Rocky Mountains generally contain fairly mild slopes and wider peaks compared to some of the other great mountain ranges, with a few exceptions (such as the Teton Mountains in Wyoming and the Sawatch Range in Colorado). The highest peaks of the Rockies are found in Colorado, the tallest peak being Mount Elbert at 14,440 ft (4,400 m). In addition, instead of being one generally continuous and solid mountain range, it is broken up into a number of smaller, intermittent mountain ranges, forming a large series of basins and valleys.

West of the Rocky Mountains lies the Intermontane Plateaus (also known as the Intermountain West), a large, arid desert lying between the Rockies and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada ranges. The large southern portion, known as the Great Basin, consists of salt flats, drainage basins, and many small north-south mountain ranges. The Southwest is predominantly a low-lying desert region. A portion known as the Colorado Plateau, centered around the Four Corners region, is considered to have some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It is accentuated in such national parks as Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde and Bryce Canyon, among others. Other smaller Intermontane areas include the Columbia Plateau covering eastern Washington, western Idaho and northeast Oregon and the Snake River Plain in Southern Idaho.

The Grand Canyon from Moran Point. The Grand Canyon is among the most famous locations in the country. Grand Canyon from Moran Point.jpeg
The Grand Canyon from Moran Point. The Grand Canyon is among the most famous locations in the country.

The Intermontane Plateaus come to an end at the Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada. The Cascades consist of largely intermittent, volcanic mountains, many rising prominently from the surrounding landscape. The Sierra Nevada, further south, is a high, rugged, and dense mountain range. It contains the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney (14,505 ft or 4,421 m). It is located at the boundary between California's Inyo and Tulare counties, just 84.6 mi or 136.2 km west-northwest of the lowest point in North America at the Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park at 279 ft or 85 m below sea level. [9]

These areas contain some spectacular scenery as well, as evidenced by such national parks as Yosemite and Mount Rainier. West of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada is a series of valleys, such as the Central Valley in California and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Along the coast is a series of low mountain ranges known as the Pacific Coast Ranges.

Alaska contains some of the most dramatic and untapped scenery in the country. Tall, prominent mountain ranges rise up sharply from broad, flat tundra plains. On the islands off the south and southwest coast are many volcanoes. Hawaii, far to the south of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean, is a chain of tropical, volcanic islands, popular as a tourist destination for many from East Asia and the mainland United States.

The territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands encompass a number of tropical isles in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. In the Pacific Ocean the territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands occupy the limestone and volcanic isles of the Mariana archipelago, and American Samoa (the only populated US territory in the southern hemisphere) encompasses volcanic peaks and coral atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands chain. [note 1]

Physiographic regions

A physiographical map of the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. The map indicates the age of the exposed surface as well as the type of terrain. US physiographic map.jpg
A physiographical map of the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. The map indicates the age of the exposed surface as well as the type of terrain.

The geography of the United States varies across its immense area. Within the continental U.S., eight distinct physiographic divisions exist, though each is composed of several smaller physiographic subdivisions. [10] These major divisions are:

Much of the central United States is covered by relatively flat, arable land. This aerial photo was taken over northern Ohio. Scipio Township near Republic.jpg
Much of the central United States is covered by relatively flat, arable land. This aerial photo was taken over northern Ohio.

The Atlantic coast of the United States is low, with minor exceptions. The Appalachian Highland owes its oblique northeast-southwest trend to crustal deformations which in very early geological time gave a beginning to what later came to be the Appalachian mountain system. This system had its climax of deformation so long ago (probably in Permian time) that it has since then been very generally reduced to moderate or low relief. It owes its present-day altitude either to renewed elevations along the earlier lines or to the survival of the most resistant rocks as residual mountains. The oblique trend of this coast would be even more pronounced but for a comparatively modern crustal movement, causing a depression in the northeast resulting in an encroachment of the sea upon the land. Additionally, the southeastern section has undergone an elevation resulting in the advance of the land upon the sea.

While the Atlantic coast is relatively low, the Pacific coast is, with few exceptions, hilly or mountainous. This coast has been defined chiefly by geologically recent crustal deformations, and hence still preserves a greater relief than that of the Atlantic. The low Atlantic coast and the hilly or mountainous Pacific coast foreshadow the leading features in the distribution of mountains within the United States.

The east coast Appalachian system, originally forest covered, is relatively low and narrow and is bordered on the southeast and south by an important coastal plain. The Cordilleran system on the western side of the continent is lofty, broad and complicated having two branches, the Rocky Mountain System and the Pacific Mountain System. In between these mountain systems lie the Intermontaine Plateaus. Both the Columbia River and Colorado River rise far inland near the easternmost members of the Cordilleran system, and flow through plateaus and intermontaine basins to the ocean. Heavy forests cover the northwest coast, but elsewhere trees are found only on the higher ranges below the Alpine region. The intermontane valleys, plateaus and basins range from treeless to desert with the most arid region being in the southwest.

The Laurentian Highlands, the Interior Plains and the Interior Highlands lie between the two coasts, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico northward, far beyond the national boundary, to the Arctic Ocean. The central plains are divided by a hardly perceptible height of land into a Canadian and a United States portion. It is from the United States side, that the great Mississippi system discharges southward to the Gulf of Mexico. The upper Mississippi and some of the Ohio basin is the semi-arid prairie region, with trees originally only along the watercourses. The uplands towards the Appalachians were included in the great eastern forested area, while the western part of the plains has so dry a climate that its native plant life is scanty, and in the south it is practically barren.

Elevation extremes:

Climate

Koppen climate types of the US (including the 5 inhabited U.S. territories) US 50 states Koppen with territories.png
Köppen climate types of the US (including the 5 inhabited U.S. territories)
A map of average precipitation across the contiguous US. Average precipitation in the lower 48 states of the USA.png
A map of average precipitation across the contiguous US.

Due to its large size and wide range of geographic features, the United States contains examples of nearly every global climate. The climate is subtropical in the Southern United States, tropical in Hawaii and southern Florida, polar in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the 100th meridian, Mediterranean in coastal California and arid in the Great Basin and the Southwest. Its comparatively favorable agricultural climate contributed (in part) to the country's rise as a world power, with infrequent severe drought in the major agricultural regions, a general lack of widespread flooding, and a mainly temperate climate that receives adequate precipitation.

The main influence on U.S. weather is the polar jet stream which migrates northward into Canada in the summer months, and then southward into the US in the winter months. The jet stream brings in large low pressure systems from the northern Pacific Ocean that enter the US mainland over the Pacific Northwest. The Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada, and Rocky Mountains pick up most of the moisture from these systems as they move eastward. Greatly diminished by the time they reach the High Plains, much of the moisture has been sapped by the orographic effect as it is forced over several mountain ranges.

Once it moves over the Great Plains, uninterrupted flat land allows it to reorganize and can lead to major clashes of air masses. In addition, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is often drawn northward. When combined with a powerful jet stream, this can lead to violent thunderstorms, especially during spring and summer. Sometimes during winter these storms can combine with another low pressure system as they move up the East Coast and into the Atlantic Ocean, where they intensify rapidly. These storms are known as Nor'easters and often bring widespread, heavy rain, wind, and snowfall to New England. The uninterrupted grasslands of the Great Plains also lead to some of the most extreme climate swings in the world. Temperatures can rise or drop rapidly and winds can be extreme, and the flow of heat waves or Arctic air masses often advance uninterrupted through the plains.

The Great Basin and Columbia Plateau (the Intermontane Plateaus) are arid or semiarid regions that lie in the rain shadow of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. Precipitation averages less than 15 inches (38 cm). The Southwest is a hot desert, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F (37.8 °C) for several weeks at a time in summer. The Southwest and the Great Basin are also affected by the monsoon from the Gulf of California from July to September, which brings localized but often severe thunderstorms to the region.

Much of California consists of a Mediterranean climate, with sometimes excessive rainfall from October–April and nearly no rain the rest of the year. In the Pacific Northwest rain falls year-round, but is much heavier during winter and spring. The mountains of the west receive abundant precipitation and very heavy snowfall. The Cascades are one of the snowiest places in the world, with some places averaging over 600 inches (1,524 cm) of snow annually, but the lower elevations closer to the coast receive very little snow.

Florida has a subtropical climate in the northern part of the state and a tropical climate in the southern part of the state. Summers are wet and winters are dry in Florida. Annually much of Florida, as well as the deep southern states, are frost-free. The mild winters of Florida allow a massive tropical fruit industry to thrive in the central part of the state, making the US second to only Brazil in citrus production in the world.

Another significant (but localized) weather effect is lake-effect snow that falls south and east of the Great Lakes, especially in the hilly portions of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on the Tug Hill Plateau in New York. The lake effect dumped well over 5 feet (1.52 m) of snow in the area of Buffalo, New York throughout the 2006-2007 winter. The Wasatch Front and Wasatch Range in Utah can also receive significant lake effect accumulations from the Great Salt Lake.

Extremes

In northern Alaska, tundra and arctic conditions predominate, where the temperature has fallen as low as −80 °F (−62.2 °C). [11] On the other end of the spectrum, Death Valley, California once reached 134 °F (56.7 °C), the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. [12] [13]

On average, the mountains of the western states receive the highest levels of snowfall on Earth. The greatest annual snowfall level is at Mount Rainier in Washington, at 692 inches (1,758 cm); the record there was 1,122 inches (2,850 cm) in the winter of 1971–72. This record was broken by the Mt. Baker Ski Area in northwestern Washington which reported 1,140 inches (2,896 cm) of snowfall for the 1998-99 snowfall season. Other places with significant snowfall outside the Cascade Range are the Wasatch Mountains, near the Great Salt Lake, the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, and the Sierra Nevada, near Lake Tahoe.

Pago Pago harbor in American Samoa has the highest annual rainfall of any harbor in the world. Fagatogo Dock.jpg
Pago Pago harbor in American Samoa has the highest annual rainfall of any harbor in the world.

In the east, the region near the Great Lakes and the mountains of the Northeast receive the most snowfall, although such snowfall levels do not near snowfall levels in the western United States. Along the northwestern Pacific coast, rainfall is greater than anywhere else in the continental U.S., with Quinault Rainforest in Washington having an average of 137 inches (348 cm). [15] Hawaii receives even more, with 404 inches (1,026 cm) measured annually in the Big Bog, in Maui. [16] Pago Pago harbor in American Samoa is the rainiest harbor in the world (because of the 523 meter Rainmaker Mountain). [14] The Mojave Desert, in the southwest, is home to the driest locale in the U.S. Yuma, Arizona, has an average of 2.63 inches (6.7 cm) of precipitation each year. [17]

In central portions of the U.S., tornadoes are more common than anywhere else on Earth [18] and touch down most commonly in the spring and summer. Deadly and destructive hurricanes occur almost every year along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. The Appalachian region and the Midwest experience the worst floods, though virtually no area in the U.S. is immune to flooding. The Southwest has the worst droughts; one is thought to have lasted over 500 years and to have hurt Ancestral Pueblo peoples. [19] The West is affected by large wildfires each year.

Natural disasters

The United States is affected by a variety of natural disasters yearly. Although drought is rare, it has occasionally caused major disruption, such as during the Dust Bowl (1931–1942). Farmland failed throughout the Plains, entire regions were virtually depopulated, and dust storms ravaged the land.

A powerful tornado near Dimmitt, Texas on June 2, 1995. Dimmitt Tornado1 - NOAA.jpg
A powerful tornado near Dimmitt, Texas on June 2, 1995.

Tornadoes and hurricanes

The Great Plains and Midwest, due to the contrasting air masses, see frequent severe thunderstorms and tornado outbreaks during spring and summer with around 1,000 tornadoes occurring each year. [20] The strip of land from north Texas north to Kansas and Nebraska and east into Tennessee is known as Tornado Alley, where many houses have tornado shelters and many towns have tornado sirens due to the very frequent tornado formations in the region.

Hurricanes are another natural disaster found in the US, which can hit anywhere along the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic Coast as well as Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. Particularly at risk are the central and southern Texas coasts, the area from southeastern Louisiana east to the Florida Panhandle, peninsular Florida, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, although any portion of the coast could be struck.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, with a peak from mid-August through early October. Some of the more devastating hurricanes have included the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Hurricanes (known as cyclones in the Pacific Ocean) fail to landfall on the Pacific Coast of the United States due to water temperatures being too cool to sustain them. However, the remnants of tropical cyclones from the Eastern Pacific occasionally impact the western United States, bringing moderate to heavy rainfall.

Total devastation in Gulfport, Mississippi caused by storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane katrina damage gulfport mississippi.jpg
Total devastation in Gulfport, Mississippi caused by storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Flooding

Occasional severe flooding is experienced. There was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the Great Flood of 1993, and widespread flooding and mudslides caused by the 1982–83 El Niño event in the western United States. Flooding is still prevalent, mostly on the Eastern Coast, during hurricanes or other inclement weather, for example in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy devastated the region. Localized flooding can, however, occur anywhere, and mudslides from heavy rain can cause problems in any mountainous area, particularly the Southwest. Large stretches of desert shrub in the west can fuel the spread of wildfires. The narrow canyons of many mountain areas in the west and severe thunderstorm activity during the summer lead to sometimes devastating flash floods as well, while nor'easter snowstorms can bring activity to a halt throughout the Northeast (although heavy snowstorms can occur almost anywhere).

Geologic

The West Coast of the continental United States makes up part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of heavy tectonic and volcanic activity that is the source of 90% of the world's earthquakes. [ citation needed ] The American Northwest sees the highest concentration of active volcanoes in the United States, in Washington, Oregon and northern California along the Cascade Mountains. There are several active volcanoes located in the islands of Hawaii, including Kilauea in ongoing eruption since 1983, but they do not typically adversely affect the inhabitants of the islands. There has not been a major life-threatening eruption on the Hawaiian islands since the 17th century. Volcanic eruptions can occasionally be devastating, such as in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington.

The Ring of Fire makes California and southern Alaska particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. Earthquakes can cause extensive damage, such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or the 1964 Good Friday earthquake near Anchorage, Alaska. California is well known for seismic activity, and requires large structures to be earthquake resistant to minimize loss of life and property. [21] Outside of devastating earthquakes, California experiences minor earthquakes on a regular basis.

There have been about 100 significant earthquakes annually from 2010 to 2012. Past averages were 21 a year. This is believed to be due to the deep disposal of wastewater from fracking. None has exceeded a magnitude of 5.6, and no one has been killed. [22]

Other natural disasters

Other natural disasters include: tsunamis around Pacific Basin, mud slides in California, and forest fires in the western half of the contiguous U.S. Although drought is relatively rare, it has occasionally caused major economic and social disruption, such as during the Dust Bowl (1931–1942), which resulted in widespread crop failures and duststorms, beginning in the southern Great Plains and reaching to the Atlantic Ocean.

Public lands

Exclusive economic zones of the United States, including insular areas Territorial waters - United States.svg
Exclusive economic zones of the United States, including insular areas

The United States holds many areas for the use and enjoyment of the public. These include national parks, national monuments, national forests, wilderness areas, and other areas. For lists of areas, see the following articles:

Human

In terms of human geography, the United States is inhabited by a diverse set of ethnicities and cultures.

See also

Notes

  1. One island in American Samoa (Swains Island) is not in the Samoan Islands — it is in the Tokelau island chain.

Related Research Articles

Geography of El Salvador

El Salvador borders the North Pacific Ocean to the south and southwest, with Guatemala to the north-northwest and Honduras to the north-northeast. In the southeast, the Golfo de Fonseca separates it from Nicaragua. El Salvador is the smallest Central American country and is the only one without a coastline on the Caribbean sea. El Salvador is about the size of Israel and the states of New Jersey and Vermont, but has the population size of Lybia and Lebanon.

Geography of California

California is a U.S. state on the western coast of North America. Covering an area of 163,696 sq mi (423,970 km2), California is geographically diverse. The Sierra Nevada, the fertile farmlands of the Central Valley, and the arid Mojave Desert of the south are some of the major geographic features of this U.S. state. It is home to some of the world's most exceptional trees: the tallest, most massive, and oldest. It is also home to both the highest and lowest points in the 48 contiguous states. The state is generally divided into Northern and Southern California, although the boundary between the two is not well defined. San Francisco is decidedly a Northern California city and Los Angeles likewise a Southern California one, but areas in between do not often share their confidence in geographic identity. The US Geological Survey defines the geographic center of the state at a point near North Fork, California.

Continental Divide of the Americas principal hydrological divide of North and South America

The Continental Divide of the Americas is the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas. The Continental Divide extends from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, and separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean and, along the northernmost reaches of the Divide, those river systems that drain into the Arctic Ocean.

Western United States Region in the United States

The Western United States is the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. As European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward through the centuries, the meaning of the term the West changed. Before about 1800, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western frontier. The frontier moved westward and eventually the lands west of the Mississippi River were considered the West.

Intermontane is a physiographic adjective formed from the prefix "inter-" and the adjective "montane"

Pacific Coast Ranges mountain ranges in North America

ThePacific Coast Ranges, are the series of mountain ranges that stretch along the West Coast of North America from Alaska south to Northern and Central Mexico.

Geology of the United States Regional geology

The richly textured landscape of the United States is a product of the dueling forces of plate tectonics, weathering and erosion. Over the 4.5 billion-year history of our Earth, tectonic upheavals and colliding plates have raised great mountain ranges while the forces of erosion and weathering worked to tear them down. Even after many millions of years, records of Earth's great upheavals remain imprinted as textural variations and surface patterns that define distinctive landscapes or provinces.

Columbia River drainage basin drainage basin of the Columbia River in western North America

The Columbia River drainage basin is the drainage basin of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. It covers 668,000 km2 or 258,000 sq mi. In common usage, the term often refers to a smaller area, generally the portion of the drainage basin that lies within eastern Washington.

Geography of British Columbia

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, bordered by the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 944,735 square kilometres (364,764 sq mi) it is Canada's third-largest province. The province is almost four times the size of United Kingdom, two and one-half times larger than Japan and larger than every U.S. state except Alaska. It is bounded on the northwest by the U.S. state of Alaska, directly north by Yukon and the Northwest Territories, on the east by Alberta, and on the south by the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Formerly part of the British Empire, the southern border of British Columbia was established by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. The province is dominated by mountain ranges, among them the Canadian Rockies but dominantly the Coast Mountains, Cassiar Mountains, and the Columbia Mountains. Most of the population is concentrated on the Pacific coast, notably in the area of Vancouver, located on the southwestern tip of the mainland, which is known as the Lower Mainland. It is the most mountainous province of Canada.

North American Cordillera mountain chain along the western side of North America

The North American Cordillera is the North American portion of the American Cordillera which is a mountain chain (cordillera) along the western side of the Americas. The North American Cordillera covers an extensive area of mountain ranges, intermontane basins, and plateaus in western North America, including much of the territory west of the Great Plains. It is also sometimes called the Western Cordillera, the Western Cordillera of North America, or the Pacific Cordillera.

Intermountain West geographic and geological region of the western United States

The Intermountain West, or Intermountain Region, is a geographic and geological region of the Western United States. It is located between the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains on the east and the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada on the west.

Geography of North America

North America is the third largest continent, and is also a portion of the second largest supercontinent if North and South America are combined into the Americas and Africa, Europe, and Asia are considered to be part of one supercontinent called Afro-Eurasia.

United States rainfall climatology

The characteristics of United States rainfall climatology differ significantly across the United States and those under United States sovereignty. Late summer and fall extratropical cyclones bring a majority of the precipitation which falls across western, southern, and southeast Alaska annually. During the winter, and spring, Pacific storm systems bring Hawaii and the western United States most of their precipitation. Nor'easters moving down the East coast bring cold season precipitation to the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Lake-effect snows add to precipitation potential downwind of the Great Lakes, as well as Great Salt Lake and the Finger Lakes during the cold season. The snow to liquid ratio across the contiguous United States averages 13:1, meaning 13 inches (330 mm) of snow melts down to 1 inch (25 mm) of water.

Geology of the Pacific Northwest geology of Oregon and Washington (United States) and British Columbia (Canada)

The geology of the Pacific Northwest includes the composition, structure, physical properties and the processes that shape the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada. The region is part of the Ring of Fire: the subduction of the Pacific and Farallon Plates under the North American Plate is responsible for many of the area's scenic features as well as some of its hazards, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and landslides.

Rocky Mountain Floristic Region

The Rocky Mountain Floristic Region, also known as the Rocky Mountain Floristic Province, is a floristic region within the Holarctic Kingdom in western North America delineated by Armen Takhtajan and Robert F. Thorne. The region extends from Kodiak Island in Alaska to the San Francisco Bay Area and Sierra Nevada in California. The Vancouverian Province comprises the coastal part of the region for its entire length, including the Pacific Coast Ranges, and the Rocky Mountain Province includes the Rocky Mountains and associated ranges. There are no endemic plant families in the region but many endemic genera and species.

Climate of the United States

The climate of the United States varies due to differences in latitude, and a range of geographic features, including mountains and deserts. Generally, on the mainland, the climate of the U.S. becomes warmer the further south one travels, and drier the further west, until one reaches the West Coast.

A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea. Every continent on earth except Antarctica has at least one continental drainage divide; islands, even small ones like Killiniq Island on the Labrador Sea in Canada, may also host part of a continental divide or have their own island-spanning divide.

Geology of North America regional geology of North America

The geology of North America is a subject of regional geology and covers the North American continent, third-largest in the world. Geologic units and processes are investigated on a large scale to reach a synthesized picture of the geological development of the continent.

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Further reading

Coordinates: 38°00′00″N97°00′00″W / 38.000°N 97.000°W / 38.000; -97.000