Instead of 50 states, what if America had 122 states based on weather?

Thinking about how America can be divided up into different states is a fun game to play. What if the states were more balanced in size, ordered around population centers, and took weather into consideration?

Weather shapes more than just our daily outfit choices—it’s a cornerstone of regional identity. Sharing the same skies means sharing similar experiences, from snow shoveling to heatwave enduring, creating a common thread among neighbors. This shared weather experience can forge a strong sense of community, as people bond over the challenges and delights unique to their climate.

Organizing the country by weather conditions is something the National Weather Service already does. They’ve got 122 forecast offices, each serving as a center for meteorological activity in its designated region.

This map blends demographics, geography, and meteorology into one intriguing puzzle. Instead of the uneven spread we’re accustomed to in the 50-state model, this map aims for a kind of territorial equilibrium.

Let’s break down the NWS’s criteria for these imagined ‘states’:

  1. By population centers
  2. By current state lines (actually county borders)
  3. By geography
  4. By weather

1. Population centers

Urban areas hold sway here. The names of these regions are often drawn from the largest city within their bounds, reflecting the gravitational pull of population centers.

2. State lines and county contours

At first glance, you see they took into consideration current state lines. For instance, the Chicago and Milwaukee area use the Illinois/Wisconsin border as their border.

Yes, state lines are visible, but the devil is in the details, or in this case, the gray lines. Those fine lines are county borders, and they’re the real draftsmen of this map. It’s a county-level breakdown that redefines regional boundaries.

Here’s a map of the county boundaries

3. The lay of the land

Geography plays its part. Mountains and rivers aren’t just picturesque; they’re practical dividers on this map. But again, these are not random lines – they align with county borders for a reason. In Washington, the Cacade Mountain Range serves as the border between Seattle and Spokane, these borders are also comprised from the county borders.

4. The climate connection

Weather patterns dictate their own territories here. Consider Illinois, a state with considerable north-south stretch. Its weather is so varied that the NWS map carves it into separate offices, including one for Central Illinois, cheekily named Lincoln.

An intriguing twist is the disregard for state lines in certain areas, like the slice of Michigan that’s paired with Indiana. The weather, it seems, has its own ideas about borders.

What’s your take?

This map stirs the pot of regional identity and asks you to consider who you would be within these newly drawn lines.

If these were the new borders of the U.S., would you be ready to relearn your state capitals? Could you wrap your head around a Michigan-minus-a-chunk, or a weather-wise reimagined Illinois? I imagine some of the southern Michigan people would not want to suddenly be a part of Indiana. Some southern and central Illinoisans would probably to be glad to have their own state.

The 122-region NWA map is a curious contemplation, one that invites discussion about how we define our sense of place and belonging. What does this reshaped America say to you?

Few more observations

  • Atlanta office looks just like a slightly-shrunken version of Georgia.
  • Delaware is entirely covered by Philadelphia office.
  • Rhode Island and Massachusetts are entirely covered by the Boston office.
  • New Hampshire covered by the Portland office.
  • N. Indiana doesn’t get named after a city. Apparently they don’t have a town in it.

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Melissa Bauer
Melissa Bauer
1 month ago

I’m down with this concept, Matt. I think it would help us re-democratize the country as well.

20 days ago
Reply to  Matt Maldre

Balanced geographically, but not by population. Just what we need more western state senators representing three people…

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