So, is Kansas flatter than a pancake? Yes, but it isn’t the flattest state in the nation. The Sunflower State isn’t even in the top five.
Until the stereotype goes away, however, researchers apparently will stay on the case.
The latest data comes from the University of Kansas. Geography professor Jerry Dobson and Joshua Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate who now is a geographer for the U.S. State Department, published a study called “The Flatness of U.S. States” in Geographical Review, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Geographical Society.
Rather than rely on the traditional flatness measurements that compare the lowest to highest elevation points, or elevation changes in 1-kilometer increments, these researchers wanted the perspective of the human eye. What does a person see if they stood in one spot and turned in a circle, recording their view of the horizon at 16 different equal intervals and assigning a value of not flat, flat, flatter or flattest. The algorithm they developed was intertwined with data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission available in Geographic Information Systems software. After six days, computers compiled all the information on the contiguous 48 states.
The results? Florida is flattest, followed by Illinois, North Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, Delaware and then Kansas. Texas, Nevada and Indiana round out the top 10. West Virginia, not Colorado, holds the distinction of least flattest.
Dobson, who believes his method is accurate, said: “What we’re seeing is the percentage of Kansas that is flat is a lower percentage than Florida.”
Dobson’s research followed the 2003 research conducted by scientists from Southwest Texas State University and Arizona State University that compared Kansas’ geography with that of a pancake from the International House of Pancakes.
“Simply put, our results show that Kansas is considerably flatter than a pancake,” that team concluded in the satirical Annals of Improbable Research.
The problem with the IHOP comparison, however, was not seriously examining other states at the same time. Even Colorado is flatter than a pancake, primarily because researchers always include the measurements of the flapjack’s sides.
Kansans realize we have a great variety of topographical changes in the state. Heck, the elevation above sea level increases from 679 feet in the southeast corner to 4,039 feet at Mount Sunflower near the Colorado border.
But most residents can’t detect the gradual rise when they merely fly over the state. Nor do they get a good feel for it if they stay on Interstate 70 border to border. Highway planners tend to route along the flattest areas possible.
It is all a matter of perspective. Perhaps the Kansas Department of Commerce should rework the state’s marketing slogan to say:
“Kansas, it’s not as flat as you think.”
There’s nothing wrong with being flatter than a pancake, in our hungry opinion. In that regard, we are in the company of numerous other states that manage to maintain broad appeal to tourists.
Just don’t call us the flattest. We have statistics to refute such a misguided notion.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry