Geography of Memphis, Tennessee

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Location in Shelby County and the state of Tennessee

The City of Memphis is located on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River in the southwest corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee. It is the regional hub for a tri-state area of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Shelby County is located over four natural aquifers, one of which is recognized as the "Memphis sand aquifer" or simply as the "Memphis aquifer." This particular water source is stated to contain more than 100 trillion gallons (380 km³) of water.

Memphis has a humid subtropical climate, with four distinct seasons. The summer months are persistently hot and humid due to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico.

Geography[edit]

Memphis is located in southwestern Tennessee at 35°7′3″N 89°58′16″W / 35.11750°N 89.97111°W / 35.11750; -89.97111.[1] The city sits on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River at the site of the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, just south of the mouth of the Wolf River. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 294.8 sq mi (763.4 km2), of which 279.3 sq mi (723.4 km2) is land and 15.4 sq mi (40.0 km2), or 5.24%, is water.

Cityscape[edit]

Three bridges over the Mississippi, view from Tom Lee Park (2007)

The city of Memphis It is the regional hub for a tri-state area of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The city center is located on the Mississippi river at the site of the earliest settlements.

Interstate 40 (I-40) enters the city from the northeast, and loops above the central part of the city, exiting across the Mississippi River and travelling to the west. Interstate 55 approaches the city from the south and connects with Interstate 240, which completes the loop around central Memphis with I-40, and also leaves to the west.

U.S. Highway 72 leaves the city traveling to the southeast. The west end of U.S. Highway 78 begins in Memphis on Linden Avenue at the intersection of 2nd Street. As it leaves Memphis, US 78 follows Lamar Avenue, historically known as Pidgeon Roost Road for the nestings of passenger pigeons formerly in the vicinity. The east end of U.S. Highway 78 terminates in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tallest buildings[edit]

Name Stories Height
100 North Main 37 430 ft (130 m)
Clark Tower Executive Suites 32 400 ft (120 m)
One Commerce Square 31 396 ft (121 m)
Sterick Building 31 365 ft (111 m)

Current Geographical Boundaries[edit]

Memphis has expanded its city limits several times within the past half-century due to annexation. The current boundaries (as of December 2012) are roughly as follows:

  • Mississippi River as the west boundary.
  • The Loosahatchie River, Raleigh-Millington Road over to Egypt-Central Road, then bordering Bartlett, Tennessee, Lakeland, Tennessee, and Arlington, Tennessee as a north boundary over to the Fayette County, Tennessee line.
  • A half mile line south of U.S. Route 64, over to Berryhill Road, Macon Road, Rocky Point Road, Walnut Grove Road to east of Forest Hill-Irene Road, south to the Wolf River and following the Germantown, Tennessee border as an east boundary.
  • An irregular line including and running east of the Southwind Golf Course (see below), to Nonconnah Creek, Germantown Road, Shelby Drive, Riverdale Road, Holmes Road, Crumpler Road, to the Mississippi State line running to the river as a south boundary.

An area within those boundaries that has not been annexed by the city of Memphis is a neighborhood known as the Bridgewater area, roughly bounded by I-40 to the north, Germantown Parkway to the east, Shelby Farms to the south and Whitten Road to the west. Memphis did try to annex this area in the mid-2000s but held it off due to an inability to move services into the area. By the end of 2013, any remaining portion of the Southwind/Windyke neighborhood currently in the county would become part of the city.[2]

Per Tennessee law, each county is required to set up urban growth boundaries for it cities. Because of this, Memphis (along with each suburb) has what is known as an annexation reserve that defines the eventual city limits. This annexation reserve includes an area between the Big Creek Drainage Canal up to the southern border of Millington, Tennessee and western border of Bartlett, an area between Lakeland, Arlington, Fayette County, and Collierville, Tennessee, and then a small portion of land south of the Southwind area mentioned above.[3]

Sections and suburbs[edit]

The core of Memphis is marked by five major districts, with smaller districts lying within their borders. These are Downtown, Midtown, North Memphis, South Memphis, and East Memphis. In recent decades the city has expanded further by annexing adjacent territories, so these names can be somewhat misleading to those who are unfamiliar to the area.

Sections and neighborhoods:

Aquifer[edit]

Shelby County is located over four natural aquifers, one of which is recognized as the "Memphis sand aquifer" or simply as the "Memphis aquifer". This particular water source, located some 350 to 1100 ft (100 – 330 m) underground, is stated to contain more than 100 trillion gallons (380 km³) of water by Memphis Light, Gas, and Water, which draws, verifies the cleanliness of, and distributes the water to over 250,000 customers.[5]

Furthermore, in the time since the tapping of the well in 1887, the aquifer has only descended 125 ft (38 m), suggesting a reliable water source in Memphis for years to come.[6]

Most Memphians recognize this as their primary water source, and take great regional pride in their possession of the aquifer. Memphis water is notably soft, low in mineral content, and free of toxic substances.[7]

Climate[edit]

Memphis
Climate chart (explanation)
J F M A M J J A S O N D
 
 
4
 
50
33
 
 
4.4
 
55
36
 
 
5.2
 
64
44
 
 
5.5
 
73
53
 
 
5.3
 
81
62
 
 
3.6
 
89
70
 
 
4.6
 
92
74
 
 
2.9
 
91
73
 
 
3.1
 
85
65
 
 
4
 
74
54
 
 
5.5
 
63
44
 
 
5.7
 
52
35
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Source: NOAA

Memphis has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), with four distinct seasons, and is located in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8,[8] as compared to most of the state, which is located in Zone 7. Historically, April is the month with the highest frequency of tornadoes, though tornadoes have occurred every month of the year. Memphis is sunny approximately 64% of the time.

Spring[edit]

Spring often begins in late February or early March, following the onset of a sharp warmup. This season is also known as "severe weather season" due to the higher frequency of tornadoes, hail, and thunderstorms producing winds greater than 58 miles per hour (93 km/h). Average rainfall is slightly higher during the spring months than the rest of the year (except November), but not to any noticeable extent.

Summer[edit]

The summer months (late May to late September) are dominated by temperatures between 68 and 95 °F (20 and 35 °C), and humidity due to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico. Afternoon thunderstorms are frequent during some summers, but usually brief, lasting no longer than an hour. There are 64 days of 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs, and 2.1 days of 100 °F (38 °C)+ highs. The highest recorded temperature was 108 °F (42 °C) on July 13, 1980.

Autumn[edit]

Early Autumn is pleasantly drier and mild, but can remain hot until late October. Abrupt but short-lived cold snaps are common. Late Autumn is rainy and colder, December being the third rainiest month of the year. Fall foliage becomes especially vibrant after the first frost, typically November, and lasts until early December.

Winter[edit]

Winters are mild, but cold snaps can occur. The official all-time record low temperature was -13.0 °F (-25.0 °C), which occurred on December 24, 1963. Mild spells are sometimes warm with temperatures as high as 75 °F (23 °C) during January and February. Snowfall is not abundant but does occur during most winters, with an annual average of 5.7 in (14.4 cm) at the airport. The most significant snow in many years fell on March 8, 2008 when 7 inches blanketed the city. While severe weather is more common in Spring, notable severe weather has occurred in winter. On February 5, 2008 a tornado killed 3 in Memphis during the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak.

Weather averages[edit]

Climate data for Memphis (Memphis Int'l), 1981−2010 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
(26)
81
(27)
87
(31)
94
(34)
99
(37)
104
(40)
108
(42)
107
(42)
103
(39)
95
(35)
86
(30)
81
(27)
108
(42)
Average high °F (°C) 49.8
(9.9)
54.7
(12.6)
63.9
(17.7)
73.0
(22.8)
81.2
(27.3)
88.9
(31.6)
91.6
(33.1)
91.3
(32.9)
85.1
(29.5)
74.4
(23.6)
62.6
(17)
52.1
(11.2)
72.4
(22.4)
Average low °F (°C) 32.6
(0.3)
36.3
(2.4)
44.1
(6.7)
52.9
(11.6)
62.2
(16.8)
70.3
(21.3)
73.8
(23.2)
72.7
(22.6)
65.2
(18.4)
53.8
(12.1)
43.7
(6.5)
35.1
(1.7)
53.6
(12)
Record low °F (°C) −8
(−22)
−11
(−24)
12
(−11)
27
(−3)
38
(3)
48
(9)
52
(11)
48
(9)
36
(2)
25
(−4)
9
(−13)
−13
(−25)
−13
(−25)
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.98
(101.1)
4.39
(111.5)
5.16
(131.1)
5.50
(139.7)
5.25
(133.4)
3.63
(92.2)
4.59
(116.6)
2.88
(73.2)
3.09
(78.5)
3.98
(101.1)
5.49
(139.4)
5.74
(145.8)
53.68
(1,363.5)
Snowfall inches (cm) 1.9
(4.8)
1.3
(3.3)
0.4
(1)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0.1
(0.3)
0.2
(0.5)
3.9
(9.9)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.5 9.2 10.5 9.6 10.3 9.0 8.0 6.8 7.3 7.5 9.5 9.7 106.9
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 1.2 0.8 0.4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 0.4 2.9
Mean monthly sunshine hours 167.4 175.2 213.9 255.0 300.7 321.0 325.5 306.9 252.0 244.9 174.0 151.9 2,888.4
Source: NOAA (extremes 1875−present),[9][10] Hong Kong Observatory (sun only, 1961−1990)[11]

Sister cities[edit]

Memphis has two sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:

Landmarks[edit]

References[edit]