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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 03/23/2010

What is the mid-Atlantic?

By Don Lipman

* Sunny days returning: Full Forecast | New season in Antarctica *

I've found that the term "mid-Atlantic states" is often confusing, even to long-time inhabitants. Several times this past winter, the National Weather Service referred to storms which would primarily impact the northern or the southern mid-Atlantic and I had to ask myself, "Where are we?"

I had always thought of the Washington area as the middle or southern mid-Atlantic, with the northern extremity stretching perhaps to New York City and the southern limit to southern Va. A number of dictionary definitions, however, refer to the mid-Atlantic as NY, Pa, NJ, Md., De., and Va. In other words, northern NY, on the Canadian border, is technically part of the mid-Atlantic. Other definitions sometimes include WV, the 3 southern New England states of Ct, RI, and Ma., and even the Carolinas.

You might be surprised to learn that for U.S. Census purposes, the mid-Atlantic ONLY includes New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. I would say, therefore, that the term "mid-Atlantic" is as much a matter of geography as it is of climate, economics, dialect, and yes, state of mind.

By Don Lipman  | March 23, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
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Definitely not NY state.

Posted by: Langway4Eva | March 23, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I consider the mid-atlantic to be North Carolina to PA/NJ, with SC and points south being the South, north of New York being New England, and NY itself being sort of its own entity.

Posted by: ryanem1 | March 23, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

ryanem1 - I agree with you in that NY is a difficult-to-place entity. I often consider it mostly party of New England. But it is a big state! And I don't subscribe to the old 13-colonies definitions of these regions. Outdated! lol

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | March 23, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I learned in geography class in my long distance youth (in MD) that the mid-Atlantic states were NY to VA.

Posted by: solsticebelle | March 23, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I'd actually say from North Carolina to New York, but not include South Carolina in your "Carolinas" category since North and South Carolina are two VERY different states, in terms of culture and weather.

North Carolina and Virginia are much closer culturally than North Carolina and South Carolina, and NC and VA (nowadays at least) have far more in common with states north to new england than they do states south toward the gulf. South Carolina is 100% a southern state. North Carolina never was historically, and certainly is not today.

In terms of weather, North Carolina gets fairly regular snow/ice events that sometimes extend as far south as Fayetteville, which is about an hour from the South Carolina border, but this is very rare. Usually the dividing line is across the Raleigh/Durham triangle area and points west and north. Most of South Carolina, outside areas close to the mountains, doesn't really get cold, by DC standards, during the winter, and almost never sees snow and ice.

So meteorologically, I'd say North Carolina should be considered part of the "mid-Atlantic" region. Lived there for 20 years, btw, so very familiar with both the weather and the culture.

Posted by: AdmiralX | March 23, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I voted "don't care" which on one hand seems like a cop out. However, it is clear there is no real definition for it yet everyone knows appoximately what it means. I almost voted for "something else" but then I asked myself, "does it really matter what I think it is?" No. Because when you tell anybody "mid-atlantic", you know you are not being specific and they know where you are talking about.

Posted by: amaranthpa | March 23, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Intriguing question! Let's further layer the complexities inherent in this geographic definition by adding Northeast Corridor to the mix, which historically included Boston to Washington. Thankfully, with population growth and changing political and social cultures, it has strengthened its reach, now extending beyond Fredericksburg, with the sweet tea line banished to Richmond and points south.

And if the infamous and frustrating rain/snow line is included, then the "mid-Atlantic" definitely includes Boston and its suburbs. I spent many frustrating winters during my childhood living on that rain/snow line west of Boston, and that sheer frustration continues to this day living in Washington!

Posted by: TominMichiganParkDC | March 23, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I've honestly always thought of it as North Carolina to Maryland, including West Virginia and Delaware. It's a pretty narrow definition that's far more exclusive than inclusive, but why not? We're unique and I feel as if our climate is substantially differentiated from New York's, or even frequently Philadelphia's to have its own location.

Posted by: hobbes9 | March 23, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most that NC, but not SC belongs in the mid-atlantic and that NY state is too far north, weather-wise. As far as cooking and culture, the mid-atlantic would be northern Virginia, MD and NJ/NYC. From Richmond on down is the South.

Posted by: eric654 | March 23, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most comments here. I say from South of the Border (SC/NC line) to NYC. I have a hard time including all of PA as some parts of it are on Lake Erie and not that far from Buffalo. I guess I would include WV.

Posted by: Finn1917 | March 23, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

NoVA (okay, all of it if you must, but you get toward Southern when you can get actual sweet tea in restaurants -- which I've found to be around Richmond, and sorry, McDonalds' is NOT the real thing), MD, DE, decent chunk of PA, maybe NJ, maybe the panhandle of WV.

Posted by: | March 23, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

My definition of Mid-Atlantic is the states that touch the Chesapeake Bay (VA and MD) plus Delaware. NC is part of the South and eastern PA and NJ are part of the Northeast, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: bdeco | March 23, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

My meteorological/cultural/fuzzy, abstract definition of Mid-Atlantic is from NJ (maybe even NYC, but that feels too New Englandy to me) down to NC.

Posted by: SpeedLimit186000 | March 23, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

The only official description of mid-Atlantic by the NWS, I believe, is that of the NWS Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center ( MARFC ): Southern New York (only)plus all of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, DC, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 23, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I was born and raised in North Carolina and always thought the Mid-Atlantic was Va, DC, MD, Delaware. Below is Southerners, above Yankees.

Lived here in Washington for last fifteen years, still see it that way, although I haven't used the term Yankees in ages.

Virginia is a toss-up, I suppose, but the places that serve good grits in the Old Dominion are few and far between, and you don't see Dixie much either.

Course, I do live in Northern Virginia :-)

Posted by: jaybird926 | March 23, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Jaybird, that brings up another interesting question... what is NorthernVA?

It's often used to describe the DC suburbs (Arlington/Fairfax/Loudoun)...

but the Northern Virginia Daily newspaper covers the Winchester / Frederick Co (VA) / Clarke County area which is geographically the northern most part of the state.

In terms of the mid-Atlantic, I agree with BDeco.

Posted by: spgass1 | March 23, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Good question spgass1.

A really good article on Northern Virginia was written by Drew Lindsay, published in the Washingtonian Magazine several years ago.

A side note defines it as:

The 15 jurisdictions of Virginia that are part of the federally designated Washington metropolitan area are generally thought of as Northern Virginia. But those include Warren, Clarke, and Spotsylvania counties as well as the city of Fredericksburg—places that culturally and politically belong more with the Old Dominion.

A more natural southern border would be the Rappahannock River, which forms the western border of Fauquier County and flows southeast to Fredericksburg. The river has long been the de facto dividing line between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state. Historian and author Tony Horwitz tells of driving south from Washington and reaching the first state visitors center—not at the Virginia border but at the Rappahannock.

Posted by: jaybird926 | March 24, 2010 5:50 AM | Report abuse

I voted "don't care," but do have some insight on the question, which I think is actually an excellent debate to get going during times of no snow. I suspect much of the confusion arises from the early designation of the "Middle Colonies" - those being NY, NJ, and PA- which lay between New England and the South (which in colonial times was MD - GA). The notion of "middle" states persisted into independence and well thereafter. That is why NY, which as the article points out borders Canada, still gets the Mid-Atlantic label. It is not New England or the South, but wedged in between.

Posted by: fleeciewool | March 24, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I hope this doesn't turn into a discussion of whether MD, DC, or VA is "the South." These discussions tend to focus on things like whether you can get cheese fries at 3 am or whatever. The historic boundaries are perfectly good. Try to draw your own, and the lines you demarcate stand on shifting cultural sands.

Posted by: fleeciewool | March 24, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

I grew up in WV and it's definitely part of the mid-atlantic. Because what else is it? It's not the south. It's not the midwest. It's not the northeast. We always considered it the mid-atlantic (in the panhandle anyway). I consider the mid-atlantic to be va, wv, md, dc, pa, de, and nj. Once you get to NC, you are definitely in the south and NY always felt more like part of New England to me.

Posted by: js2225 | March 24, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse


Several government agencies, e.g., EPA, include W. VA in its definition of Mid-Atlantic states. For the most part, NWS discussions do not.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 24, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

SC is definitely not mid-atlantic. They've even got the South of the Border restaurant to prove it.

Posted by: ah___ | March 24, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Mid-Atlantic is MD,VA,DE and PA. That is all. New York and New Jersey are part of the "Tri-State region" and North Carolina part of the "Carolinas"

Posted by: ijamsman | March 24, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Why does your poll lump North Carolina with South Carolina into this entity called the Carolinas? Why didn't you separate the geographically distinct states?
North Carolina is the midway point between south Florida and northern Maine. By literal definition, North Carolina is the essence of the Mid-Atlantic. It is the midway point on the East Coast. No other state is more geographically Mid-Atlantic than North Carolina.

Posted by: Tarheelhockey | March 24, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

All these pronouncements on North Carolina being "the south" are clearly coming from people who have probably never set foot in the state :).

As a native -- and it took me a long time to accept that designation since I was born in DC and practically raised in Maryland and am culturally and temperamentally of this area -- I can tell you that North Carolina is very distinct from all the other southern states. You can "feel" the difference when you cross the border into places like South Carolina (especially) or Tennessee or Georgia.

North Carolina deserves a "the south" designation no more than Northern Virginia does. In fact, I'd say those two are more closely related than North Carolina is to any incontestably southern state. Now granted there are parts of North Carolina that are definitely "the south" -- sort of like everything in Virginia south of Fredericksburg and west of 95 -- but those are few and far between. I-40 changed all that in the mid '80s.

Posted by: AdmiralX | March 25, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on this topic does not contemplate North Carolina at all.

The headline of this post asked "what is the mid-Atlantic," but the lead turned to the "mid-Atlantic states." I do think there's a difference. If we are dividing the country by whole states but stipulating that mid-Atlantic makes the cut (that is, we're not just going Northeast, Midwest, South, West), then the list has to start with NY, NJ and PA, because those states aren't in New England and they have to be somewhere. I think that's where you see the historic use come in as well. Again assuming that you're going to break down the South -- or at least shave it back a bit -- then DE and MD are slam dunks with VA and WV on the fence.

What this post really gets at, though, is that at least among those of us within shouting distance of the major metro areas... we've shifted to using "mid-Atlantic" to describe a cultural/geographic region that doesn't conform to state borders. I think of "the mid-Atlantic" as bounded roughly by the New York/Connecticut border, the I-84 corridor, the U.S. 15 corridor and I-64 corridor. The only states that are entirely within this mid-Atlantic are New Jersey and Delaware, although very little of Maryland is outside it. West Virginia -- no dice.

Posted by: MosesCleaveland | March 25, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

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