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Kansas is located in the western part of the
central United States. Kansas is usually designated as a Midwestern
state. However, it is commonly referred to as a plains state, and
sections are often considered part of the Southwest or West. Such
variations in terminology reflect the fact that Kansas does not
belong wholly to one region and is an area of diversified relief,
climate, economy, and patterns of settlement. The landscape of the
east, with its hills, woodlands, grain-and-livestock farms, and
comparatively large cities, contrasts sharply with the dry treeless
plains and vast wheat farms of the sparsely populated west. In
addition, the High Plains of the west include areas of canyon
country and sand dunes reminiscent of New Mexico and other parts of
the Southwest, while the rolling grasslands of the Flint and Smoky
hills, in central Kansas, resemble the rangelands of the West.
Kansas entered the Union on January 29, 1861, as the 34th state.
Topeka is the capital of Kansas. Wichita is the largest city.
Kansas, which has been called the Wheat State and
the Breadbasket of the Nation, leads all other states in production
of wheat. However, wheat dominates neither the landscape nor the
economy of Kansas. The sale of livestock, especially beef cattle,
provides a larger percentage of annual farm income than the sale of
wheat. Moreover, service industries and manufacturing are far more
valuable to the state’s economy than agriculture, with
transportation and mining a distant fourth and fifth.
The state is named for the Kansas River, which,
in turn, was named for the Kansa people, who once inhabited
northeastern Kansas. The word Kansas means "people of the south
wind." The nickname preferred by most Kansans is the Sunflower
State. The helianthus, or native wild sunflower, grows profusely
throughout Kansas and is the official state flower. Kansas is also
referred to as the Jayhawk or Jayhawker state. The origin and
meaning of the term "Jayhawker" are disputed. In Kansas it
was used at the beginning of the American Civil War (1861-1865) to
refer to the bands of guerrillas and irregular troops that were
active along the Kansas-Missouri border. The name was taken up by
some regular troops in Kansas. Eventually it became a nickname for
Until Alaska and Hawaii achieved statehood in
1959, the geographical center of the United States was located near
Lebanon in Kansas. Although the center subsequently shifted to North
Dakota, Kansas is still recognized as the site of the geographical
center of the coterminous United States, that is, of all the states
except Alaska and Hawaii. The geodetic center (which takes into
account the curvature of the earth’s surface) of the United States
is located at Meades Ranch Triangulation Station in Osborne County
in north central Kansas. The station serves as the basic reference
point for all government mapping undertaken in the United States
(except in Hawaii), Canada, and Mexico. Selected in 1901, it has
also served as the geodetic center of North America since 1913.
Kansas ranks 15th among the states in size. It
has a total area of 82,282 square miles, including 1,189 square
miles of inland water. The state is rectangular in shape, except for
a small section in the northeast where it is bounded by the Missouri
River. It measures 411 miles from east to west and 208 miles from
north to south.
The surface of Kansas can, in a very broad sense,
be described as a plain. However, it is neither entirely flat nor
entirely level, and minor variations in relief are conspicuous. The
state’s surface elevation increases gradually from east to west,
rising from a minimum elevation of 679 feet above sea level in the
Verdigris River valley to 4,039 feet at Mount Sunflower, the highest
point in the state. The approximate mean elevation is 610 m (2000
ft). Hills, ridges, and wooded river valleys abound in eastern and
central Kansas. Farther west they give way to the flatter, generally
treeless High Plains, which are frequently but inaccurately thought
of as characteristic of the entire state.
The climate of Kansas is warm to hot during
summer and cool to cold in winter. Although there is a large
difference between summer and winter temperatures, during each
season of the year temperatures do not vary greatly from place to
place. In winter the prevailing winds are from the north. In summer
they are from the south or southwest.
Average January temperatures range from about
34° in the southeastern part of the state to between 26° and 28°
in northern Kansas. The average January temperature at Topeka is
about 28°. Throughout the state, daytime lows below 0° sometimes
occur in winter, and lows of -30°, although infrequent, have been
Average July temperatures range from below 76°
in northwestern Kansas to above 80° in sections of central and
southern Kansas. The average July temperature at Topeka is about
78°. Throughout the state, daytime highs are often in the lower
90°s, and extreme summer temperatures in the upper 100°s have been
recorded in most areas.
Precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) diminishes
from east to west, ranging from between 34 and 40 inches in the east
to between 16 and 20 inches in the west. The eastern third of
Kansas, the wettest part of the state, usually receives more than 30
inches of precipitation. However, precipitation is extremely
variable from year to year and, to a lesser extent, from place to
place. In each decade, cycles of comparatively wet years alternate
with cycles of dry years. In dry years drought conditions vary in
severity and extent, but they are more common in the western part of
the state than elsewhere. During the most severe droughts the
combination of hot rainless days and high winds create dust-bowl
conditions in western Kansas and in other parts of the Great Plains.