Physical Geography

VirginiaVirginia is one of the Southern States of the United States.

Virginia lies in five distinct regions, all of which run in a northeast-southwest direction: the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau, the Blue Ridge, the Ridge and Valley, and the Cumberland Plateau. All except the Coastal Plain are part of the Appalachian system, which extends from Newfoundland to Alabama.

The Coastal Plain, or Tidewater Virginia, is a broad lowland in the east, making up about a fourth of the state. It extends inland as far as the Fall Line and includes the Eastern Shore, which is part of the Delmarva Peninsula east of Chesapeake Bay. Most of the land is flat and sandy and deeply indented by estuaries and bays. Extensive swamps and marshes border the tidal areas. The largest swamp is Dismal Swamp, on the North Carolina border.

The Piedmont Plateau. About half the state is in this rolling-to-hilly area west of the Coastal Plain. From the Fall Line the Piedmont extends westward to the Blue Ridge, increasing in elevation from about 300 to 1,000 feet (90 to 300 m).

The Blue Ridge rises abruptly from the Piedmont, forming a fairly narrow band of mountains across the state. The range is highest and broadest in the south, below Roanoke, where a number of peaks exceed elevations of 3,500 feet (1,067 m). Mount Rogers, a short distance just north of Virginia's border with Tennessee and North Carolina, reaches 5,729 feet (1,746 m)—the highest point in Virginia.

The Ridge and Valley region is beyond the Blue Ridge. It is some 50 to 75 miles (80 to 120 km) wide and consists of northeast-southwest mountain ridges and intervening parallel valleys. Largest of the valleys is the Great Valley, or Valley of Virginia, which lies just west of the Blue Ridge. In northern Virginia it follows the Shenandoah River and is usually called the Shenandoah Valley. A number of caverns and natural bridges occur in the Ridge and Valley region.

The Cumberland Plateau. A small portion of this plateau crosses the extreme southwestern part of the state. It is mostly a heavily eroded upland with deep valleys. The Cumberland Gap, a pass through the rough terrain, lies at the junction of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Large coal deposits underlie the region.


Virginia's largest rivers flow from the mountains to Chesapeake Bay. Among them are the Potomac, which forms part of the Virginia-Maryland state line; the Rappahannock; the York; and the James. The Roanoke River flows from the Blue Ridge through the Piedmont into North Carolina and empties into Albemarle Sound. Rivers in western Virginia, including the Clinch and the Holston, drain southwestward to the Tennessee River beyond the Virginia state line. The New River, west of Roanoke, is the only major river to flow northwestward; it joins the Kanawha, a tributary of the Ohio, in West Virginia. Many of Virginia's rivers flow in water gaps that cut through mountain ridges.

Reservoirs, built as water-supply sources, as part of hydroelectric installations, and as recreational areas, are Virginia's largest lakes. Among them are Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston, on the North Carolina border, Smith Mountain Lake, and Lake Anna. Lake Drummond, in the Dismal Swamp, is the largest natural lake. Virginia also has many mineral springs and hot springs.

Virginia'sVirginia's state flower is the American dogwood

Virginia has a humid climate that is transitional between the harsh continental type of the northern United States and the subtropical kind of the South. Its chief distinguishing marks are warm to hot summers, moderately cold winters, and abundant precipitation. Climatic variations within the state are due largely to differences in elevation and topography and distance from the sea.

Summers are hottest on the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont, where July temperatures average 76° to 79° F. (24° to 26° C.) and often reach daytime highs of around 90° F. (32° C.). Mountainous areas have somewhat lower readings. January temperatures vary, depending on location, from about 33° to 44° F. (.5° to 7° C.).

Precipitation is greatest in the higher mountain areas and in the southeastern part of the state—about 50 inches (1,270 mm) a year. In general, amounts decrease toward the northwest, reaching a low of about 32 inches (813 mm) along the West Virginia border. Droughts are infrequent. Snowfall is light, especially in the Tidewater area.

Interesting facts about Virginia
The only full-length statue of George Washington made from life stands in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. Jean Antoine Houdon, a famous French sculptor, created the marble statue. It is said to be a near-perfect likeness of Washington. Houdon took measurements for the statue at Mount Vernon, Washington's home, in 1785. The sculpture, completed in 1791, was placed inside the Capitol in 1796.
Northrop Grumman Newport News, formerly known as Newport News Shipbuilding, is one of the world's largest privately owned shipyards. Founded in 1886, the Newport News-based company has produced many famous ships. These include the Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which was launched in 1960. The company also built two passenger ships that were the largest ever constructed in the United States when they were launched--the America (1939) and the United States (1951).
Phi Beta Kappa, the first American Greek-letter society, was founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg on Dec. 5, 1776. Phi Beta Kappa is now a well-known college and university honor society for men and women that encourages scholarship in the liberal arts and sciences.
Virginia'sVirginia's state tree is the American dogwood.