NEBRASKA IS MADE up of a combination of mountain rages and high plains. The state has an area of 77,354 sq. mi. (200,346 sq. km.), with inland water making up 481 sq. mi. Elevations range from 840 ft. (1,246 sq. km.) above sea level on the Missouri River, to 4,424 ft. (1,348 m.) at Kimball County in Western Nebraska (the southwest corner of the panhandle). Nebraska can be divided into three geographic zones. Eastern Nebraska has many rivers, salt marshes, and grassland. Central Nebraska is flat in the south with the Platte River and the sand hills in the north with shallow lakes. A dam holds back the North Platte River, forming Lake McConaughy, the largest lake in the state. Western Nebraska, the Panhandle, has the highest in elevation of all of Nebraska, and is windy. Nebraska is drained by the Missouri River system.
Nebraska's climate experiences light snow, low humidity, hot summers, and cold winters. Warm, moist air flows from the Gulf of Mexico, while hot, dry air travels from the southwest, and cool, dry air currents flow from the northern Pacific Ocean and northwest Canada. The Rocky Mountains limit moisture from the west. Annual precipitation in the eastern third of the state averages 27 in. (69 cm.), in the central third 22 in. (56 cm.), and in the western third 18 in (46 cm.). An excessive rate of rainfall is frequent during summer thunderstorms. Floods occur in the eastern third of the state, as do tornadoes. Average snowfall normally ranges from about 20-40 in. (51-102 cm.), with the heaviest snows in late winter. Severe weather is common, from blizzards, to damaging winds, hail, and torrential rain.
Underneath central and western Nebraska is the largest aquifer in the world. Ogallala Aquifer lies underground beneath eight states, including Nebraska. The aquifer was named for the town of Ogallala in 1899. The level of water in the aquifer has been dropping steadily for decades and farmers are now trying to conserve this water by practicing conservation in irrigation. The rate of depletion has not stopped the dropping level of water, but it has slowed. Agriculture is a major economic concern, especially corn, livestock, soybeans, and sugar beets.
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