The flatness of U. S. states

A new study measured the flatness of U. S. states and found that (a) Florida is by far the flattest state, (b) Kansas is not as flat as most people think, and (c) all states are flatter than a pancake.


In a new study being released today in Geographical Review, Dr. Jerome E. Dobson and Mr. Joshua S. Campbell show that conventional wisdom might be conventional, but it’s not always right!  Which U. S. state is flattest?  In a recent nationwide poll, 33% of respondents said Kansas and 23% said Florida.

According to the study, Florida is correct by any measure.  Its highest point is only 345 feet above sea level, so no local view can have much relief.  Yet 77% of all national respondents, including 62% of Floridians, failed to recognize how overwhelmingly flat the place is.

Kansas? The Great Plains as a whole are not as flat as people imagine. Any mildly alert observer can see that most of Kansas is rolling to quite hilly.  When people visit eastern Kansas, they almost always express surprise that the terrain is not as flat as they expected.  Yet the state’s reputation is so pervasive across the US.

“We performed a quantitative analysis of the contiguous United States, employing geographic software, digital elevation data, and a new algorithm for measuring flatness.  We took as our measure the viewpoint of a person standing on any spot and looking toward the horizon in all directions.  We repeated the calculation every 295 feet across the entire United States, and the computation ran for 36 hours on a fairly powerful desktop computer.  We aggregated these calculations for each state and determined flat land as a percentage of each state’s total area. Kansas came in number 7” said Dr. Dobson.

Which state is the second flattest behind Florida?  Which state is least flat?  Illinois ranks second.

Which state falls dead last?  At least John Denver got that right when he sang, “West Virginia, mountain mama.”

For the complete results of the study, as well as maps and tables ranking all states except Hawaii and Alaska, go to Geographical Review (Dobson, J. E., and J. S. Campbell. 2014.  “The Flatness of U. S. States.”  Geographical Review 104(1):1-9.


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