State of Florida
65,794 sq. mi.(170,451 km)
162 miles (260 km)
497 miles (800 km)
- % water
24°30'N to 31°N
79°48'W to 87°38'W
- Total (2000)
301/sq. mi.116.3/km (8th)
- Highest point
Britton Hill (Walton County)345 feet (105 m)
98 feet (30 m)
- Lowest point
0 feet (0 m)
Admission to Union
March 3, 1845 (27th)
Jeb Bush (R)
Bill Nelson (D)Mel Martinez (R)
Florida is a U.S. state located in the southeastern United States. It was named by Juan Ponce de Len, who landed on the coast on April 2, 1513, during Pascua Florida (Spanish for "Flowery Easter," referring to the Easter season).
Florida is situated mostly on a large peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. It consists of a panhandle, extending along the northern Gulf of Mexico, and a large peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean as its eastern border and the Gulf of Mexico as its western border. It is bordered on the north by the states of Georgia and Alabama, and on the west, at the end of the panhandle, by Alabama. It is near the countries of the Caribbean, particularly the Bahamas and Cuba.
At 345 feet (105 m) above mean sea level, Britton Hill is the highest point in Florida and the lowest highpoint of any U.S. state. Contrary to popular belief, however, Florida is not entirely "flat." Some places, such as Clearwater, feature vistas that rise 50 to 100 feet (15–30 m) above the water. Much of the interior of Florida, typically 25 miles (40 km) or more away from the coastline, features rolling hills with elevations ranging from 100 to 250 feet (30–76 m) in many locations. Lake County holds the highest point of peninsular Florida, Sugarloaf Mountain, at 312 feet (95 m).
The state line begins at the Atlantic Ocean, traveling west, south, and north up the thalweg of the Saint Mary's River. At the origin of that river, it then follows a straight line nearly due west and slightly north, to the point where the confluence of the Flint River (from Georgia) and the Chattahoochee River (down the Alabama/Georgia line) used to form Florida's Apalachicola River. (Since Woodruff Dam was built,this point has been under Lake Seminole.) The border with Georgia continues north through the lake for a short distance up the former thalweg of the Chattahoochee, then with Alabama runs due west along latitude 31°N to the Perdido River, then south along its thalweg to the Gulf via Perdido Bay.
The climate of Florida is tempered somewhat by its proximity to water. Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate, with the extreme tip of Florida and the Florida Keys bordering on a true tropical climate. Cold fronts can occasionally bring high winds and cool to cold temperatures to the entire state during late fall and winter. One such front swept through the peninsula on November 25, 1996, bringing cold temperatures and winds up to 95 miles per hour (150 km/h), knocking out power to thousands and damaging mobile homes. However, Florida averages 300 days of full sunshine a year. The seasons in Florida are actually determined more by precipitation than by temperature with warm, relatively dry winters and autumns (the dry season) and hot, wet springs and summers (the wet season). The Gulf Stream has a moderating effect on the climate, and although much of Florida commonly sees a high summer temperature over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32°C), the mercury seldom exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit (39°C). The hottest temperature ever recorded in the state was 109°F (43°C), set on June 29, 1931 in Monticello. The coldest was –2°F (−19°C), on February 13, 1899, just 25 miles (40 km) away, in Tallahassee. Mean high temperatures for late July are primarily in the low 90s Fahrenheit (32–35°C). Mean low temperatures for late January range from the low 40s Fahrenheit (4–7°C) in northern Florida to the mid-50s (≈13°C)in southern Florida.
The Florida Keys, being surrounded by water, generally have a more tropical climate, with lesser variability in temperatures. At Key West, temperatures rarely exceed 90°F in the summer or fall below 60°F in the winter.
Florida's nickname is the "Sunshine State," but severe weather is a common occurrence in the state. Central Florida is known as the lightning capital of the United States, as it experiences more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the country. Florida has the highest average precipitation of any state, in large part because afternoon thunderstorms are common in most of the state from late spring until early autumn. A fair day may be interrupted with a storm, only to return to regular, gorgeous sunshine. These thunderstorms, caused by collisions between airflow from the Gulf of Mexico and airflow from the Atlantic Ocean, pop up in the early afternoon and can bring heavy downpours, high winds, and sometimes tornadoes. Florida leads the United States in tornadoes per square mile, but these tornadoes do not typically reach the intensity of those in the Midwest and Great Plains. Hail often accompanies the severest thunderstorms.
Snow is a rare occurrence in Florida. During the Great Blizzard of 1899, Florida experienced blizzard conditions for possibly the first time since explorers had arrived. During that time, the Tampa Bay Area had "gulf-effect" snow, similar to lake-effect snow. The Great Blizzard of 1899 is the only time the temperature in the state is known to have fallen below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (−18°C). The most widespread snowfall in Florida history happened in February 1978, when snow fell over much of the state in different times of the month, as far south as Homestead. Snow flurries fell on Miami Beach for the only time in recorded history. 1982's "Cold Sunday," which saw freezing conditions throughout much of the country, ruined that year's orange crops. In 1989, a severe hard freeze created lots of ice and also caused minor flurries in sections of the state and resulted in rolling blackouts from power failures caused by massive demands on the power grid for heating. A hard freeze in 2003 brought "ocean-effect" snow flurries to the Atlantic coast as far south as Cape Canaveral. .
Although some storms have formed out of season, hurricanes pose a threat during hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30. Florida saw a slew of destruction in 2004, when it was hit by a record four hurricanes. Hurricanes Charley (August 13), Frances (September 4–5), Ivan (September 16), and Jeanne (September 25–26) cumulatively cost the state's economy US$42 billion. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis (July 10) became the fifth storm to strike Florida within eleven months. Later, Hurricane Katrina (August 25) passed through South Florida and Hurricane Rita (September 20) swept through the Florida Keys. Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida in the early morning of October 24 as a Category 3 hurricane, with the storm's eye hitting near Cape Romano, just south of Marco Island, according to National Hurricane Center.
Florida was the site of the second most costly weather disaster in U.S. history, Hurricane Andrew, which caused more than US$25 billion in damage when it struck on August 24, 1992. In a long list of other infamous hurricane strikes are the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Opal in 1995.
Florida is the fifth-largest producer of greenhouse gases among the 50 U.S. states. This may coincide with the fact that Florida is the fourth most populous state in the United States. Climatologists and scientists debate whether global warming is to blame for an increase in the number of strong hurricanes. The scientists Peter Webster and Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology published research in 2005 showing an increase in global hurricane intensity, with a doubling of the number of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes since 1970. That increase coincides with a rise of nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit in ocean surface temperatures. They argue that there is a connection, while Florida's state climatologist, James O'Brien, argues the increase in stronger storms is merely part of a natural cycle.
Five of the flags that have been flown over Florida throughout the centuries.
Archaeological finds indicate that Florida had been inhabited for thousands of years before any European settlements. Of the many indigenous people, the largest known were the Ais, the Apalachee, the Calusa, the Timucua and the Tocobago tribes. Juan Ponce de Len, a Spanish conquistador, named Florida in honor of his "discovery" of the land on April 2, 1513, during Pascua Florida, a Spanish term for the Easter season. From that date forward, the land became known as "La Florida." (Juan Ponce de Len may not have been the first European to reach Florida. At least one Indian that he encountered in Florida in 1513 could speak Spanish.. Alternatively, the Spanish-speaking Indian could have been in contact with areas where Spanish settlements already existed, and Ponce de Len was indeed the discoverer).
Over the following century, both Spanish and French intruders established settlements in Florida, with varying degrees of success. In 1559, Spanish Pensacola was established by Don Tristn de Luna y Arellano as the first European settlement in the continental United States, but it had become abandoned by 1561 and would not be reinhabited until the 1690s. French Huguenots founded Fort Caroline in modern-day Jacksonville in 1564, but this fort was conquered by forces from the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine the following year. After Huguenot leader Jean Ribault had learned of the new Spanish threat, he launched an expedition to sack the Spanish settlement; en route, however, severe storms at sea waylaid the expedition, which consisted of most of the colony's men, allowing St. Augustine founder Pedro Menndez de Avils time to march his men over land and conquer Fort Caroline. Most of the Huguenots were slaughtered, and Menndez de Avils marched south and captured the survivors of the wrecked French fleet, ordering all but a few Catholics executed beside a river subsequently called Matanzas (Spanish for 'killings'). St. Augustine came to serve as the capitals of the British and Spanish colonies of East and West Florida, respectively. The Spanish never had a firm hold on Florida, and maintained tenuous control over the region by converting the local tribes, briefly with Jesuits and later with Franciscan friars. The local leaders (caciques) demonstrated their loyalty to the Spanish by converting to Roman Catholicism and welcoming the Franciscan priests into their villages.