STATE OF FLORIDA, USA

Geography:

Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, on the Gulf Coast. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a 2010 estimated population of 18,801,310 by the United States Census Bureau, it is the fourth most populous state in the country. With an area of 65,755 square miles (170,305 km), Florida ranks 22nd in size among the 50 U.S. states. The state capital is Tallahassee, its largest city is Jacksonville, and the South Florida metropolitan area is the largest metropolitan area in the southeastern United States. Florida consists of 67 counties. Each counties consists of cities and towns.

Much of the state of Florida is situated on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. Its geography is marked by a coastline, by the omnipresence of water and the threat of hurricanes. Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, encompassing approximately 1,350 miles (2,170 km). Much of the state is at or near sea level (the highest natural point 345 feet (105 m) above sea level at Britton Hill) and its terrain is characterized by sedimentary soils. The climate varies from subtropical in the north to tropical in the south. Its symbolic animals like the American alligator and the manatee, can be found in the Everglades, one of the most famous national parks in the world.

Much of the state of Florida is situated on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. Spanning two time zones, It extends to the northwest into a panhandle, extending along the northern Gulf of Mexico. 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 several Caribbean countries, particularly The Bahamas and Cuba. Florida is one of the largest states east of the Mississippi River, and only Alaska and Michigan are larger in water area.

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. Much of the state south of Orlando is low-lying and fairly level; however, some places, such as Clearwater, feature vistas that rise 50 to 100 feet (15 30 m) above the water. Much of Central and North 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). The highest point in peninsular Florida, Sugarloaf Mountain, is a 312-foot (95 m) peak in Lake County.

The state line begins in 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 31N to the Perdido River, then south along its thalweg to the Gulf via Perdido Bay. Much of the state is at or near sea level.

Agriculture:

Florida's most important agricultural products, and the ones for which it is most famous, are its citrus fruits. Florida continues to supply the vast majority of orange juice consumed in the US. Florida produced nearly 80% of the nation's oranges and 79% of its grapefruits in 2002. It is also an important producer of other fruits, vegetables, and sugarcane.

The total value of Florida's crops in 2001 exceeded $4.9 billion, 4th highest among the 50 states. Total farm marketings, including livestock marketings and products, exceeded $6.4 billion in 2001 (9th in the US). There were about 44,000 farms covering some 10.2 million acres (4.13 million hectares) in 2002; the total represented nearly 30% of the state's entire land area.

The orange was introduced to Florida by Spanish settlers around 1570. Oranges had become an important commercial crop by the early 1800s, when the grapefruit was introduced. In 1886, orange production for the first time exceeded one million boxes (one box equals 90 lb/41 kg). Much of this production came from groves along the northern Atlantic coast and the St. Johns River, which offered easy access to maritime shipping routes north. The expansion of the railroads and severe freezes in the 1890s encouraged the citrus industry to move farther south. Polk, St. Lucie, Indian River, Hendry, and Hardee counties in central Florida are the largest producers of citrus fruits.

The orange crop totaled 230,000,000 90-lb (41-kg) boxes in the 2001/2002 season. The grapefruit crop was 46,700,000 85-lb (39-kg) boxes; tangerines, 6,600,000 95-lb (43-kg) boxes; and tangelos and temple oranges, 3,700,000 90-lb (41-kg) boxes. There are about 50 processing plants in Florida where citrus fruits are processed into canned or chilled juice, frozen or pasteurized concentrate, or canned fruit sections. Production of frozen concentrate orange juice totaled 235.9 million gallons in 2000. Stock feed made from peel, pulp, and seeds is an important by-product of the citrus-processing industry; annual production is nearly one million tons. Other citrus by-products are citrus molasses, D-limonene, alcohol, wines, preserves, and citrus seed oil.

Florida is the country's 2nd-leading producer of vegetables. Vegetable farming is concentrated in central and southern Florida, especially in the area south of Lake Okeechobee, where drainage of the Everglades left exceptionally rich soil. In 1998, Florida farmers harvested 14,400,000 hundredweight of tomatoes; they sold 9,295,000 hundredweight of potatoes. Florida's tomato and vegetable growers, who had at one time enjoyed a near-monopoly of the US winter vegetable market, began in the 1990s to face increasing competition from Mexican growers, whose lower-priced produce had captured about half the market by 1995. About two-thirds of all farm laborers are hired hands.

Florida's major field crop is sugarcane (mostly grown near Lake Okeechobee), which enjoyed a sizable production increase in the 1960s and 1970s, following the cutoff of imports from Cuba. In 2002, Florida's sugarcane production was 17,606,000 tons. Florida's 2nd-largest field crop is peanuts (197,800,000 lb/ 89,720,000 kg in 2002), followed by cotton, hay, corn, tobacco, soybeans, and wheat. Florida leads the nation in the production of watermelons.

Economy:

The economy is largely driven by tourism and elderly residents. While the increase in older residents has been considered a economic liability in other states, they are an asset in Florida. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Florida in 2007 was $734.5 billion. Its GDP is the fourth largest economy in the United States. In 2010, it became the fourth largest exporter of trade goods. The major contributors to the state's gross output in 2007 were general services, financial services, trade, transportation and public utilities, manufacturing and construction respectively. In 201011, the state budget was $70.5 billion, having reached a high of $73.8 billion in 200607. The economy is driven almost entirely by its nineteen metropolitan areas. In 2004, they had a combined total of 95.7% of the state's domestic product.

Weather:

The climate of Florida is tempered somewhat by the fact that no part of the state is very distant from the ocean. North of Lake Okeechobee, the prevalent climate is humid subtropical, while coastal areas south of the lake (including the Florida Keys) have a true tropical climate. Mean high temperatures for late July are primarily in the low 90s Fahrenheit (3234 C). Mean low temperatures for early to mid January range from the low 40s Fahrenheit (47 C) in northern Florida to the mid-50s (~13 C) in southern Florida. With an average daily temperature of 70.7 F (21.5 C), it is the warmest state in the country.

In the summer, high temperatures in the state seldom exceed 100 F (38 C). Several record cold maxima have been in the 30s F (-1 to 4 C) and record lows have been in the 10s (-12 to -7 C). These temperatures normally extend at most a few days at a time in the northern and central parts of Florida. Southern Florida, however, rarely encounters sub-freezing temperatures. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Florida was 109 F (43 C), which was set on June 29, 1931 in Monticello. The coldest temperature was -2 F (-19 C), on February 13, 1899, just 25 miles (40 km) away, in Tallahassee. The USDA Plant hardiness zones for the state range from zone 8a (no colder than 10 F (-12 C)) in the inland western panhandle to zone 11 (no colder than 40 F (4 C)) in the lower Florida Keys.

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 narrow eastern part of the state including Orlando and Jacksonville receives between 2,400 and 2,800 hours of sunshine annually. The rest of the state, including Miami, receives between 2,800 and 3,200 hours annually.

Florida leads the United States in tornadoes per square mile (when including waterspouts) but they do not typically reach the intensity of those in the Midwest and Great Plains. Hail often accompanies the most severe thunderstorms. Hurricanes pose a severe threat during hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30, although some storms have been known to form out of season. Florida is the most hurricane-prone US state, with subtropical or tropical water on a lengthy coastline. From 1851 to 2006, Florida has been struck by 114 hurricanes, 37 of them majorcategory 3 and above. It is rare for a hurricane season to pass without any impact in the state by at least a tropical storm. For storms, category 4 or higher, 83% have either hit Florida or Texas. August to October is the most likely period for a hurricane in Florida.

In 2004, Florida was hit by a record four hurricanes. Hurricanes Charley (August 13), Frances (September 45), Ivan (September 16), and Jeanne (September 2526) cumulatively cost the state's economy $42 billion. Additionally, the four storms caused an estimated $45 billion in damage. 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 (October 24) made landfall near Cape Romano, just south of Marco Island, finishing another very active hurricane season. Wilma is the second most expensive hurricane in Florida history, due in part to a five year window in which to file claims.

In 2004, Florida was hit by a record four hurricanes. Hurricanes Charley (August 13), Frances (September 45), Ivan (September 16), and Jeanne (September 2526) cumulatively cost the state's economy $42 billion. Additionally, the four storms caused an estimated $45 billion in damage. 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 (October 24) made landfall near Cape Romano, just south of Marco Island, finishing another very active hurricane season. Wilma is the second most expensive hurricane in Florida history, due in part to a five year window in which to file claims.

Visiting in Florida:

During Florida's early days, only wealthy and famous people could afford to vacation there. Some were so fond of Florida that they decided to stay and farm or start another business. Henry S. Flagler was one of those people who fell in love with the Sunshine State and he decided to invest in Florida after a visit in 1883. He began to invest his wealth by building hotels and railroads in Florida. As the railroads grew, it was easier for people to travel to Florida. By 1890, the railways were completed and travel to Florida was made easy for people as far away as New York.

In the early 1900s, thousand of tourists were coming to Florida. They came to stay in the new hotels, rest in the warm weather, enjoy the natural beauty, and some even came to recover from illnesses. Many wealthy people, such as Thomas Edison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ford, built winter homes in Florida and visited for months at a time.

The invention of the automobile also made travel easier for people. As cars became less expensive and people had more leisure time, more people had time to go on vacation. Hotels and resorts were still expensive, so some travelers brought their own beds and food. They slept in their cars. Since their food was usually in tin cans, these travelers were known as "tin-can tourists."

In the 1930s, airlines opened up travel schedules to Florida. This provided the way for even more tourists to travel to Florida. Airports were built in major cities, making travel easier for tourists into and around Florida. In the 1930s also, architects designed buildings in Miami Beach in a style called Art Deco. This cheerful, colorful style was popular in the Depression era. Visitors are still attracted to the Art Deco district.

After World War II, the tourist industry quickly became Florida's biggest source of income. At first, the only thing for tourists to see was the natural beauty of Florida. The miles of white sandy beaches, the Everglades with its alligators, panthers and birds, the Florida Keys, with its coral reefs and sport fishing, and the forests of the national parks attracted many nature lovers. There were activities such as fishing, hiking, boating, and swimming taking place throughout the state, but above all, the visitors came to soak up the sun and relax.

There are theme parks built all over Florida. In 1971, Florida became home to one of the largest resorts in the world, Walt Disney World Resort. In the first year, this 28,000-acre park brought about $14 billion dollars to Orlando's economy. This one resort is like a city in itself. It includes Disney's Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, the MGM Movie Studio center, Camp Wilderness, Islands of Adventure, and Animal Kingdom. This theme park has continued to grow throughout the last thirty years and has encouraged other developers to build many other attractions in Florida.

In addition to Walt Disney World Resort, the Orlando area is also home to Sea World, Cypress Gardens, and Universal Studios. In fact, Orlando is the biggest vacation spot in Florida. On the west coast, Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo are two popular attractions. Tampa Bay has hosted two Super Bowl Games. On the east coast is Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport USA. With the popularity of boat cruises increasing, Florida waters have become a major location for people taking cruises in the Caribbean.

Today, tourism is the most important factor driving Florida's economy. About forty million people visit Florida yearly. The money visitors spend in Florida supports many businesses. Amounting to over $40 billion dollars each year, tourism is the state's greatest source of income. As tourism continues to grow, so will Florida.

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