So, 27 US states are farther north than Canada, eh?

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With all the recent talk about some people wanting to move from the US to Canada, I got to wondering how cold, and how far north Canada is. And after a few Google searches, I was surprised to learnĀ that 27 US states are actually farther north than the southernmost point of Canada! This seemed like a good thing to show & prove on a map...

But before we get to the map, here's a photo from my friends Joy & Erik, to get you into the mood for a blog about Canada. This is the border crossing as they were entering Alberta (from Montana), on their way to see the Canadian part of Glacier National Park. These guys travel a lot, and this was one of their 'short' trips from NC ... only about 2,350 miles away! (They didn't move to Canada, by the way - just visiting!)

Now, how about those 27 US states that are farther north than Canada?!?... Below isĀ one of the many maps I found in my web search on that topic. They placed a marker at the southernmost point of Canada, and the US states which are at least partially north of that point are shown in dark gray. I guess their map covers the basics, but here is a list of the things I would like to improve about it:

  • Canada is not actually shown on the map.
  • Alaska is shown south of the US, although it is geographically to the north.
  • The map doesn't contain descriptive titles (you have to read a lot of text in the article to figure it out).
  • And, although they mark the southernmost point in Canada with an '*', it is not evident exactly where that latitude line runs across the US (for example, the northern tip of New Jersey looks farther north than the southern Canada marker, in this map).

Let's see if we can do better...

I started my map by adding Canada, leaving Alaska in its proper geographical location, and adding some descriptive labels to the map. I used the following SAS SQL code to determine the southernmost point in Canada (calculated from the map data), and save it into a dataset so I could annotated it on the map as a red dot. I also saved the lat/long values of this coordinate as SAS macro variables, so I could easily use them later in the code to do other things (such as calculate points along the line). In case you're curious, the minimum point in Canada is at approximately latitude 41.7 degrees north.

proc sql noprint;
create table minpoint as
select unique *
from mapsgfk.canada
having lat=min(lat);
select unique lat into :min_cany separated by ' ' from minpoint;
select unique long into :min_canx separated by ' ' from minpoint;
quit; run;

Looking at the map above, your instincts might tell you to visually draw a horizontal line at latitude 41.7, and see which US states are at least partially above that line. But that is the wrong thing to do! (Notice that New Jersey crosses this simple horizontal line.)

Why was that wrong?

The Earth is a globe/sphere, and in order to view a portion of it on a flat page we have to 'flatten' it out. And to do that, we have to stretch some areas. We do this flattening & stretching of the map using various projection techniques - the above map was flattened using the Albers projection, centered on the 48 contiguous US states. If you use the projection on the map, you also have to use the projection on the points along the latitude=41.7 line. In the map below, I use the Albers projection on both the map and the line. With the properly curved/projected line, it is now easier to see that New Jersey is now totally below that line.

You might be thinking "projection techniques and curved lines of latitude - ugh!" My map-geek friends understand this kind of thing, but can't we create something simpler, that will be intuitive to non-map-geeks? Isn't there some way we can just use a simple/straight/flat line? I'm glad you asked! If you use the cylindrical projection, the lines of latitude do come out that way! The map might look a little 'squished' compared to what you're used to seeing, but I think the straight line makes it a lot more intuitive that the line is dividing things into north and south. Here is an alternative version of the map, using the cylindrical projection.

What about you? - Do you live farther north than the southernmost point in Canada (latitude 41.7 degrees north)? And if so, do you consider your climate cold? Feel free to answer this question even if you're not in the US - latitude 41.7 degrees north extends all the way around the globe, of course! :-)

 

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About Author

Robert Allison

The Graph Guy!

Robert has worked at SAS for over 25 years, and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in Computer Science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from NC State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book (SAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics).

10 Comments

  1. I wonder how the states below the red line were also colored blue. How are they farther north than the southernmost point in Canada. Please explain! This map was very interesting!

  2. Suzanne Dorinski on

    I would have guessed Pelee Island, but thanks to Wikipedia, the red dot is probably Middle Island. It's a short boat trip from Cleveland.

  3. My first thought was the follow-up map: Which European countries are farther North than Canada?
    But a quick look at the map revealed a rough answer: Greece and possibly Portugal. (I am not sure what kind of projection was used on the map I checked)

  4. Much of Europe, including my home town of Zurich, Switzerland at 47.38N, is farther North than the Southern tip of Canada. However, thanks to the gulf stream, our climate is very mild compared to Canada. We still have good hockey, though. :-)

  5. This stuff is neat but latitude doesn't tell the whole story on weather.

    I live in Toronto, Canada, at about 43 degrees N. The next largest city in Canada is Montreal -- it's at about 45 degrees N but is much cooler than Toronto, and much snowier in the wintertime. Toronto "benefits" by being on the shore of Lake Ontario (basically an inland ocean comparable in size to some small European countries) which moderates our temperature. Vancouver is at 49 degrees N but sits right on a gulf of the Pacific Ocean, and has very mild winters with almost no snow.

  6. This is mildly interesting, but "Blue states farther North than Canada" is very poor wording. That includes California, of all states, that extends as far South as the border with Mexico!

    What are shown are states of which "some portion" lies farther North than the most southern point in Canada.

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