North Carolina

Outdoors Overview

North Carolina  is a state in Southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west, Virginia to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

North Carolina has a wide range of elevations, from sea level on the coast to 6,684 feet (2,037 m) at Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern US. The climate of the coastal plains is strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the state falls in the humid subtropical climate zone. More than 300 miles (500 km) from the coast, the western, mountainous part of the state has a subtropical highland climate.

North Carolina borders South Carolina on the south, Georgia on the southwest, Tennessee on the west, Virginia on the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. The United States Census Bureau classifies North Carolina as a southern state in the subcategory of being one of the South Atlantic States.

North Carolina consists of three main geographic sections: the coastal plain, which occupies the eastern 45% of the state; the Piedmont region, which contains the middle 35%; and the Appalachian Mountains and foothills. The extreme eastern section of the state contains the Outer Banks, a string of sandy, narrow islands which form a barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and two inland waterways or "sounds": Albemarle Sound in the north and Pamlico Sound in the south. They are the two largest landlocked sounds in the United States. So many ships have been lost off Cape Hatteras that the area is known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". More than 1,000 ships have sunk in these waters since records began in 1526. The most famous of these is the Queen Anne's Revenge (flagship of Blackbeard) which went aground in Beaufort Inlet in 1718.

Immediately inland, the coastal plain is relatively flat, with rich soil ideal for growing tobacco, soybeans, melons, and cotton. The coastal plain is North Carolina's most rural section, with few large towns or cities. Agriculture remains an important industry.

The coastal plain transitions to the Piedmont region along the "fall line", a line which marks the elevation at which waterfalls first appear on streams and rivers. The Piedmont region of central North Carolina is the state's most urbanized and densely populated section. It consists of gently rolling countryside frequently broken by hills or low mountain ridges. Small, isolated, and deeply eroded mountain ranges and peaks are located in the Piedmont, including the Sauratown Mountains, Pilot Mountain, the Uwharrie Mountains, Crowder's Mountain, King's Pinnacle, the Brushy Mountains, and the South Mountains. The Piedmont ranges from about 300–400 feet (90–120 m) elevation in the east to over 1,000 feet (300 m) in the west. Due to the rapid population growth in the Piedmont, a significant part of the rural area in this region is being transformed into suburbs with shopping centers, housing, and corporate offices. Agriculture is steadily declining in its importance. The major rivers of the Piedmont, such as the Yadkin and Catawba, tend to be fast-flowing, shallow, and narrow.

The western section of the state is part of the Appalachian Mountain range. Among the subranges of the Appalachians located in the state are the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Balsam Mountains, and the Black Mountains. The Black Mountains are the highest in the Eastern United States, and culminate in Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet (2,037 m).It is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Although agriculture still remains important, tourism has become a dominant industry in the mountains. Growing Christmas trees has recently been an important industry. Due to the higher altitude, the climate in the mountains often differs markedly from the rest of the state. Winter in western North Carolina typically features high snowfall and subfreezing temperatures more akin to those of a midwestern state than of a southern state.

North Carolina has 17 major river basins. The basins west of the Blue Ridge Mountains flow to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Ohio and then the Mississippi River). All the others flow to the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 17 basins, 11 originate within the state of North Carolina, but only four are contained entirely within the state's border – the Cape Fear, Neuse, White Oak and Tar-Pamlico.

The geographical divisions of North Carolina are useful when discussing the climate of the state.

The climate of the coastal plain is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which keeps temperatures mild in winter and moderate in summer. The highest coastal, daytime temperature averages less than 89 °F (32 °C) during summer months. The coast has mild temperature in winter, with daytime highs rarely below 40 °F (4 °C). The average daytime temperature in the coastal plain is usually in the mid-50s °F (11–14 °C) in winter. Temperatures in the coastal plain only occasionally drop below the freezing point at night. The coastal plain averages only around 1 inch (2.5 cm) of snow or ice annually, and in many years, there may be no snow or ice at all.

The Atlantic Ocean has less influence on the climate of the Piedmont region, which has hotter summers and colder winters than in the coast. Daytime highs in the Piedmont often average over 90 °F (32 °C) in the summer. While it is not common for the temperature to reach over 100 °F (38 °C) in the state, such temperature, if it occurs, is found in the lower areas of the Piedmont. The weaker influence of the Atlantic Ocean also means that temperatures in the Piedmont often fluctuate more widely than in the coast.

In winter, the Piedmont is colder than the coast, with temperatures usually averaging in the upper 40s–lower 50s °F (8–12 °C) during the day and often dropping below the freezing point at night. The region averages from 3–5 in (8–13 cm) of snowfall annually in the Charlotte area, to around 12 in (30 cm) in the Asheville area. The Piedmont is especially notorious for sleet and freezing rain. Freezing rain can be heavy enough to snarl traffic and break down trees and power lines. Annual precipitation and humidity are lower in the Piedmont than in the mountains or the coast, but even at its lowest, the average is 40 in (1,020 mm) per year.

The Appalachian Mountains are the coolest area of the state, with daytime temperatures averaging in the low 40s and upper 30s °F (6–3 °C) for highs in the winter and falling into the low 20s °F (−5 °C) or lower on winter nights. Relatively cool summers have temperatures rarely rising above 80 °F (27 °C). Average snowfall in many areas exceeds 30 in (76 cm) per year, and can be heavy at the higher elevations. For example, during the Blizzard of 1993 more than 60 in (152 cm) of snow fell on Mount Mitchell over a period of three days. Additionally, Mount Mitchell has received snow in every month of the year.

Severe weather occurs regularly in North Carolina. On average, a hurricane hits the state once a decade. Destructive hurricanes that have struck the state include Hurricane Fran, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Hazel, the strongest storm to make landfall in the state as a Category 4 in 1954. Hurricane Isabel stands out as the most damaging of the 21st century. Tropical storms arrive every 3 or 4 years. In addition, many hurricanes and tropical storms graze the state. In some years, several hurricanes or tropical storms can directly strike the state or brush across the coastal areas. Only Florida and Louisiana are hit by hurricanes more often. Although many people believe that hurricanes menace only coastal areas, the rare hurricane which moves inland quickly enough can cause severe damage. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo caused heavy damage in Charlotte and even as far inland as the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwestern part of the state. On average, North Carolina has 50 days of thunderstorm activity per year, with some storms becoming severe enough to produce hail, flash floods, and damaging winds.

North Carolina averages fewer than 20 tornadoes per year. Many of these are produced by hurricanes or tropical storms along the coastal plain. Tornadoes from thunderstorms are a risk, especially in the eastern part of the state. The western Piedmont is often protected by the mountains breaking storms up as they try to cross over them. The storms will often reform farther east. Also a weather feature known as "cold air damming" occurs in the western part of the state. This can also weaken storms but can also lead to major ice events in winter."

In April 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in North Carolina's history occurred. 25 confirmed tornadoes touched down, mainly in the Eastern Piedmont, killing at least 24 people. Damages in the capital of Raleigh alone were over $115 million.

Monthly normal high and low temperatures (Fahrenheit) for various North Carolina cities.
City Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Asheville 47/27 51/30 59/35 68/43 75/51 81/60 84/64 83/63 77/56 68/45 59/36 49/29
Boone 42/21 45/23 52/29 61/37 69/46 76/54 79/58 78/57 72/50 63/39 54/31 45/24
Cape Hatteras 52/39 54/40 59/45 66/53 74/61 81/69 85/74 84/73 80/69 72/60 64/51 56/43
Charlotte 51/30 55/33 63/39 72/47 79/56 86/64 89/68 88/67 81/60 72/49 62/39 53/32
Fayetteville 52/31 56/32 64/39 73/47 80/56 87/65 90/70 89/69 83/63 74/49 63/40 54/32
Greensboro 48/30 52/32 61/39 70/47 78/56 85/65 88/69 86/68 80/61 70/49 61/40 51/32
Raleigh 51/30 54/32 63/40 72/48 80/57 87/66 90/70 88/69 82/62 73/50 64/41 54/32
Wilmington 56/36 60/38 66/44 74/52 81/60 87/69 90/73 88/71 84/66 76/55 68/45 59/38

North Carolina Map

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