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United States of America (USA) - Climate and Weather

The United States of America is a large country; with 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million square kilometers) it is the fourth largest country in the world behind Russia, Canada and China. It has a population of 324 million people, making it the third most populous country behind China and India. The vast size of the country means it has different climates, from the freezing winter temperatures of Alaska to the hot deserts of Nevada and Utah.

There are 50 States in America, with 48 of them located in the continental plate of the US and 2 additional states in Hawaii and Alaska. Washington DC is a federal district, but is not a separate state. Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are often mistakenly believed to be an additional two states, but they are US territories which receive US protection whilst maintaining internal independence.

Most people in the US use five major regions when dividing up the country into areas, which do not reflect borders and are not officially defined. They are the Northeast, Midwest, West, Southwest and Southeast regions. Most sources would put states into the same regions as each other, but they can sometimes vary; as an example, Maryland is sometimes considered as part of the Southeast and sometimes as part of the Northeast.

The Northeast region has a humid continental climate, though summers may be cool in the northern areas of the region which border Canada. Temperatures during the winter are regularly below freezing, and snow is expected as a normal and lengthy event.

Residents in this region will require a range of clothing covering the different seasons of the year. Because temperatures can vary so much especially during the autumn (or ‘fall’, as it is called in the US), it is best to have lots of layers available. Long trousers or tights under skirts will be necessary for most of the year, as will long sleeved tops and light jumpers or cardigans. Since it will rain throughout much of the year, an umbrella is useful.

Thick sweaters and socks will be necessary for the winter. Light coats and jackets are useful throughout the year, especially in the northern areas, but in winter you will need a very thick coat and wrap up with a hat, scarf and gloves. During snow and icy weather, shoes with a very good grip are essential, even in the cities; the physician and cardiologist Dr Robert Atkins, who created the globally famous Atkins Diet, died in April 2003 after slipping and hitting his head on an icy pavement in New York.

The Midwest, often referred to as ‘the bread basket of America because its climate and soil means most of the country’s grain crops are grown there, has a humid continental climate through most of the region. In the wintertime snow is common, especially in the northern areas of the region which borders Canada.

Suitable clothing will be similar to that required in the Northeast region. Winters in Minnesota, for example, can be severe, so thermal layers, thick long coats made of modern insulating materials and thick gloves and hats to protect your hands and head will be essential. By summertime, a T shirt and shorts will be worn during the hot daylight hours, although even at that time of year the nights can be cool.

The West is dominated by the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Mountains, which provide alpine and dry semiarid climates. Great expanse of deserts can be found across Nevada and Southern California, a state which also provides a long stretch of coastline with a Mediterranean climate.

Near the coastline of California, clothing you would wear in the Mediterranean would be comfortable and appropriate. Bikinis are acceptable swimwear, and girls roller skating in the park for example may wear a bikini top with denim shorts. In shops, restaurants and other public areas a bikini top would not be generally appropriate and will attract unwelcome attention. In the mountains warmer clothing will be necessary, especially in the winter, and shoes which are suitable for walking comfortably are recommended.

The Southeast region, also colloquially referred to as ‘the South’, has a humid subtropical climate, and the summers are hot. With little frost, crops can be grown for most of the year. There is a significant coastline facing the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, so the region is prone to hurricane activity. Florida, Alabama and Louisiana are within this region; they are the wettest states in the country with average rainfall of 59 inches a year.

The temperature in this region is very hot during the summer and very humid, so you need light clothing which will keep you cool. Avoid wool or other heavy materials; they will make you hot and may be damaged in the hot wet air. Some areas will have a lot of biting insects, so a loose long sleeved shirt will provide some protection from them as well as the sun. A large brimmed sunhat and sunglasses, along with high factor sun cream and plenty of bottled water to drink are essential. Shoes should be comfortable and lightweight. Even in the wintertime the temperature remains warm, so whilst long sleeves are useful, heavy clothing is rarely needed. Rain will be frequent and may be very heavy, so an umbrella and light raincoat is useful.

The Southwest has a humid climate in the East, but in the west there are significant tracts of semiarid climate which has very little rainfall. To the far west are alpine and desert climates. Arizona is located in the Southwest; it is the sunniest state in the US and has sunshine for 85% of the year.

In the eastern areas of the Southwest, your required wardrobe will reflect that of the Southeast region. In the western areas, the air will be much drier so there will be less rain and the hot air will feel clearer; your wardrobe will reflect the summer wardrobe of the Mediterranean. Across the entire region, however, protection against the sun will be part of your wardrobe planning.

The US suffers extreme weather events on a regular basis. If buying a house with a mortgage, insuring the building will be a condition of the mortgage loan. Even if it isn’t, insurance is usually seen as essential given the risk of damage from weather and natural disasters in the US. Standard homeowners insurance does not cover flooding, so a separate policy should be purchased. Homeowners, renters and business owners in the areas prone to flooding can take advantage of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Europeans have become used to using price comparison websites for buying insurance, using a range of well advertised sites. Unfortunately these have not become available in the United States so you will need to do a lot of legwork to find the best quotes from a variety of suppliers. Remember to check the policy conditions carefully, as the contract you sign will be what is legally enforced to the letter. Your house insurance quotes will be affected by the building’s age and type of construction, claims history, risk factors (including swimming pool, trampoline or aggressive dog), the policy holder’s credit score, the level of insurance excess (called ‘deductible’ in the US), and the coverage amount. One of the major factors affecting building insurance price will be location, to reflect the risks of local risk as well as weather or extreme event risk.

Tornado season occurs between April and June in the Midwest states, where an average 1,224 tornadoes will occur each year. The states most at risk are Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi.

Earthquakes happen in the US several times every day. Sites such as Earthquake Track provide continuously updated information about where, when and magnitude of each quake, with maps pinpointing the epicentre.

Hurricanes frequently occur in early summer along the southern East Coast and Gulf of Mexico coast. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency in the Department of Commerce, the five US cities most vulnerable to hurricanes are Miami, Key West, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, Tampa and New Orleans in Louisiana. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina was the most financially costly natural disaster in US history ($108billion), and an estimated 1,245 people died in the hurricane and subsequent flooding.

The US is frequently affected by tsunami events. In the 20th century, an estimated 221 people died in tsunamis on the islands of Hawaii. Alaska and the West Coast has sustained many damaging tsunamis, including the 1964 tsunami which was the most disastrous to hit the US coast in terms of lives lost and financial losses. In 1918 US territory in Puerto Rico suffered a tsunami which killed 40 people, with the earthquake which had caused the tsunami killing a further 76 people. There are 4 tsunami warning centres located in the US which provide warning pages online for members of the public.

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