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The Blue Ridge Province

All of the mountainous terrain of North Carolina lies within a physiographic zone that geologists describe as the Blue Ridge province—a mountainous range approximately 200 miles long by 15 to 50 miles wide in North Carolina. These mountains include 43 peaks that exceed 6,000 feet in elevation and with 82 peaks between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. To the west the Great Smoky Mountains [Fig. 43] make up the most massive peaks, mostly over 6,000 feet high. To the east the Black Mountains [Fig. 10] have at least 12 peaks over 6,000 feet in elevation, including eastern North America's highest peak, Mount Mitchell [Fig. 17] at 6,684 feet above sea level. Within this physiographic region, too, are the Pisgah Mountains [Fig. 26], the Newfound Mountains [Fig. 18], the Balsams [Fig. 22], the Cowee Mountains [Fig. 32], the Nantahalas [Fig. 29], and the Snowbirds [Fig. 37], and the Valley River Mountains [Fig. 32]. The mountains occur in a region of the state commonly referred to as Western North Carolina.

The climate of the Blue Ridge belt varies with elevation. The prevailing winds are from the northwest, and as one travels upward in elevation on the windward sides, the temperature, in general, decreases at 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet up to 4,000 feet. Above 4,000 feet, the temperature decreases 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet. Coming down the leeward side, however, there is a uniform rise in temperature of 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet. Overall, the climate in the Blue Ridge province is relatively mild, with average July temperatures ranging from 59 degrees Fahrenheit at Mount Mitchell to 73.8 degrees Fahrenheit in Asheville.

The Blue Ridge province is blessed with abundant rainfall, but it varies greatly with altitude. In the higher mountains above 5,000 feet, it may be as much as 80 inches per year, while Asheville, at 2,000 feet, receives only 37 inches per year. On average, the annual precipitation for the entire mountain region ranges from 44 to 58 inches, and, in general, it is uniform throughout the year.

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