Virginia

Virginia
Commonwealth of Virginia
Nickname(s): 
Old Dominion, Mother of Presidents
Motto(s): 
Sic semper tyrannis
(English: Thus Always to Tyrants)[1]
Anthem: Our Great Virginia
Virginia is located on the Atlantic coast along the line that divides the northern and southern halves of the United States. It runs mostly east to west. It includes a small peninsula across a bay which is discontinuous with the rest of the state.
Map of the United States with Virginia highlighted
CountryUnited States
Before statehoodColony of Virginia
Admitted to the UnionJune 25, 1788 (10th)
CapitalRichmond
Largest cityVirginia Beach
Largest metroWashington-Arlington-Alexandria
Government
 • GovernorRalph Northam (D)
 • Lieutenant governorJustin Fairfax (D)
LegislatureGeneral Assembly
 • Upper houseSenate
 • Lower houseHouse of Delegates
U.S. senators
U.S. House delegation
  • 7 Democrats
  • 4 Republicans
(list)
Area
 • Total42,774.2 sq mi (110,785.67 km2)
Area rank35th
Dimensions
 • Length430 mi (690 km)
 • Width200 mi (320 km)
Elevation
950 ft (290 m)
Highest elevation5,729 ft (1,746 m)
Lowest elevation0 ft (0 m)
Population
 • Total8,517,685 (2,018)
 • Rank12th
 • Density206.7/sq mi (79.8/km2)
 • Density rank14th
 • Median household income
$71,535[3]
 • Income rank
10th
Demonym(s)Virginian
Language
 • Official languageEnglish
 • Spoken language
  • English 86%
  • Spanish 6%
  • Other 8%
Time zoneUTC-05:00 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-04:00 (EDT)
USPS abbreviation
VA
ISO 3166 codeUS-VA
www.virginia.gov
Virginia state symbols
Flag of Virginia.svg
Seal of Virginia.svg
Living insignia
BirdCardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
ButterflyTiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus)
Dog breedAmerican Foxhound (Canis lupis familiaris)
FishBrook trout, striped bass
FlowerFlowering Dogwood
InsectTiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus)
TreeFlowering Dogwood
Inanimate insignia
BeverageMilk
DanceSquare dance
FossilChesapecten jeffersonius
RockNelsonite
ShellEastern oyster
SloganVirginia is for lovers
TartanVirginia Quadcentennial Tartan
State route marker
Virginia state route marker
State quarter
Virginia quarter dollar coin
Released in 2000
Lists of United States state symbols

Virginia (ə/ (About this soundlisten)), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern[4] and Mid-Atlantic[5] 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.[6]

The area's history begins with several indigenous groups, including the Powhatan. In 1607 the London Company established the Colony of Virginia as the first permanent English colony in the New World. Virginia's state nickname, the Old Dominion, is a reference to this status. Slave labor and the land acquired from displaced Native American tribes each played a significant role in the colony's early politics and plantation economy. Virginia was one of the 13 Colonies in the American Revolution. In the American Civil War, Virginia's Secession Convention resolved to join the Confederacy, and Virginia's First Wheeling Convention resolved to remain in the Union; that led to the creation of West Virginia. Although the Commonwealth was under one-party rule for nearly a century following Reconstruction, both major national parties are competitive in modern Virginia.[7]

The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.[8] The state government was ranked most effective by the Pew Center on the States in both 2005 and 2008.[9] It is unique in how it treats cities and counties equally, manages local roads, and prohibits its governors from serving consecutive terms. Virginia's economy has many sectors: agriculture in the Shenandoah Valley; federal agencies in Northern Virginia, including the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); and military facilities in Hampton Roads, the site of the region's main seaport.

Geography

A topographic map of Virginia, with text identifying cities and natural features.
Virginia is shaped by the Chesapeake Bay and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is bordered by five states and the District of Columbia.

Virginia has a total area of 42,774.2 square miles (110,784.7 km2), including 3,180.13 square miles (8,236.5 km2) of water, making it the 35th-largest state by area.[10] Virginia is bordered by Maryland and Washington, D.C. to the north and east; by the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina to the south; by Tennessee to the southwest; by Kentucky to the west; and by West Virginia to the north and west. Virginia's boundary with Maryland and Washington, D.C. extends to the low-water mark of the south shore of the Potomac River.[11]

The state's southern border is defined as the 36° 30′ parallel north, though surveyor error in the 1700s led to deviations of as much as three arcminutes.[12] In 1803, Tennessee and Virginia agreed to appoint a commission to fix their border. Virginia attempted to appoint a new surveying commission in 1871, but Tennessee sued, and in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court settled in favor of the 1803 line in the case Virginia v. Tennessee.[13] One result of this is the division of the town of Bristol between the two states.[14]

Geology and terrain

The Chesapeake Bay separates the contiguous portion of the Commonwealth from the two-county peninsula of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The bay was formed from the drowned river valleys of the Susquehanna River and the James River.[15] Many of Virginia's rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay, including the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James, which create three peninsulas in the bay.[16][17]

The rays of a sunset spread over mountain ridges that turn from green to purple and blue as they progress toward the horizon.
Deciduous and evergreen trees give the Blue Ridge Mountains their distinct color.[18]

The Tidewater is a coastal plain between the Atlantic coast and the fall line. It includes the Eastern Shore and major estuaries of Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is a series of sedimentary and igneous rock-based foothills east of the mountains which were formed in the Mesozoic era.[19] The region, known for its heavy clay soil, includes the Southwest Mountains around Charlottesville.[20] The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the Appalachian Mountains with the highest points in the commonwealth, the tallest being Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet (1,746 m).[21] The Ridge and Valley region is west of the mountains and includes the Great Appalachian Valley. The region is carbonate rock based and includes Massanutten Mountain.[22] The Cumberland Plateau and the Cumberland Mountains are in the southwest corner of Virginia, south of the Allegheny Plateau. In this region, rivers flow northwest, with a dendritic drainage system, into the Ohio River basin.[23]

The Virginia Seismic Zone has not had a history of regular earthquake activity. Earthquakes are rarely above 4.5 in magnitude, because Virginia is located away from the edges of the North American Plate. The largest earthquake, at an estimated 5.9 magnitude, was in 1897 near Blacksburg.[24] A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia on August 23, 2011, near Mineral. The earthquake was reportedly felt as far away as Toronto, Atlanta and Florida.[25] 35 million years ago, a bolide impacted what is now eastern Virginia. The resulting Chesapeake Bay impact crater may explain what earthquakes and subsidence the region does experience.[26]

Coal mining takes place in the three mountainous regions at 45 distinct coal beds near Mesozoic basins.[27] Over 64 million tons of other non-fuel resources, such as slate, kyanite, sand, or gravel, were also mined in Virginia in 2018.[28] The commonwealth's carbonate rock is filled with more than 4,000 caves, ten of which are open for tourism, including the popular Luray Caverns and Skyline Caverns.[29]

Climate

Virginia state-wide averages 1895–2019
Climate chart (explanation)
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
 
 
3.3
 
 
45
25
 
 
3
 
 
47
26
 
 
3.8
 
 
56
34
 
 
3.4
 
 
67
42
 
 
4
 
 
76
51
 
 
4.1
 
 
82
60
 
 
4.6
 
 
86
64
 
 
4.3
 
 
84
63
 
 
3.7
 
 
79
56
 
 
3.2
 
 
68
44
 
 
2.9
 
 
57
35
 
 
3.3
 
 
48
27
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Source: U.S. Climate Divisional Dataset

The climate of Virginia is humid subtropical and becomes increasingly warmer and more humid farther south and east.[30] Seasonal extremes vary from average lows of 26 °F (−3 °C) in January to average highs of 86 °F (30 °C) in July. The Atlantic Ocean has a strong effect on eastern and southeastern coastal areas of the commonwealth. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, coastal weather is subject to hurricanes, most pronouncedly near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.[31] In spite of its position adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, even the coastal areas have a significant continental influence with quite large temperature differences between summer and winter, particularly given the commonwealth climate's subtropical classification, which is typical of states in the Upper South.

Virginia has an annual average of 35–45 days of thunderstorm activity, particularly in the western part of the commonwealth,[32] and an average annual precipitation of 43.32 inches (110 cm).[33] Cold air masses arriving over the mountains in winter can lead to significant snowfalls, such as the Blizzard of 1996 and winter storms of 2009–2010. The interaction of these elements with the commonwealth's topography creates distinct microclimates in the Shenandoah Valley, the mountainous southwest, and the coastal plains.[34] Virginia averages seven tornadoes annually, most F2 or lower on the Fujita scale.[35]

In recent years, the expansion of the southern suburbs of Washington, D.C. into Northern Virginia has introduced an urban heat island primarily caused by increased absorption of solar radiation in more densely populated areas.[36] In the American Lung Association's 2018 report, Arlington and Fairfax counties received failing grades for high ozone pollution.[37] Haze in the mountains is caused in part by coal power plants.[38] Virginia currently plans for 30% of the state's electricity to be renewable by 2030 and for 100% to be carbon-free by 2050.[39]

Ecosystem

Forests cover 65% of Virginia, primarily with deciduous, broadleaf trees in the western part of the commonwealth and evergreens and conifers in the central and eastern parts of Virginia.[40] Lower altitudes are more likely to have small but dense stands of moisture-loving hemlocks and mosses in abundance, with hickory and oak in the Blue Ridge.[30] However, since the early 1990s, Gypsy moth infestations have eroded the dominance of oak forests.[41] In the lowland tidewater and piedmont, yellow pines tend to dominate, with bald cypress wetland forests in the Great Dismal and Nottoway swamps. Other common trees and plants include red bay, wax myrtle, dwarf palmetto, tulip poplar, mountain laurel, milkweed, daisies, and many species of ferns. The largest areas of wilderness are along the Atlantic coast and in the western mountains, where the largest populations of trillium wildflowers in North America are found.[30][42] The Atlantic coast regions are host to flora commonly associated with the South Atlantic pine forests and lower Southeast Coastal Plain maritime flora, the latter found primarily in eastern and central Virginia.

Two red-brown colored deer graze among tall grass and purple flowers in a meadow.
White-tailed deer, also known as Virginia deer, graze at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park

Mammals include white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, skunk, groundhog, Virginia opossum, gray fox, red fox, and eastern cottontail rabbit.[43] Other mammals include: nutria, fox squirrel, gray squirrel, flying squirrel, chipmunk, brown bat, and weasel. Birds include cardinals (the state bird), barred owls, Carolina chickadees, red-tailed hawks, ospreys, brown pelicans, quail, seagulls, bald eagles, and wild turkeys. Virginia is also home to the pileated woodpecker as well as the red-bellied woodpecker. The peregrine falcon was reintroduced into Shenandoah National Park in the mid-1990s.[44] Walleye, brook trout, Roanoke bass, and blue catfish are among the 210 known species of freshwater fish.[45] Running brooks with rocky bottoms are often inhabited by plentiful amounts of crayfish and salamanders.[30] The Chesapeake Bay is host to many species, including blue crabs, clams, oysters, and rockfish (also known as striped bass).[46]

Virginia has 30 National Park Service units, such as Great Falls Park and the Appalachian Trail, and one national park, Shenandoah National Park.[47] Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive. Almost 40% of the park's area (79,579 acres or 322.04 km2) has been designated as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System.[48] Additionally, there are 34 Virginia state parks and 17 state forests, run by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Forestry.[40][49] The Chesapeake Bay, while not a national park, is protected by both state and federal legislation, and the jointly run Chesapeake Bay Program which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge extends into North Carolina, as does the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which marks the beginning of the Outer Banks.[50]