Andrew's Weather Center


18 August 2019, Blog No. 5


"Storms are now moving into the Triangle and will continue tracking Down East through the evening." "The Metrolina region is currently dodging pop-up showers and thunderstorms, and the Sandhills will see the same later this afternoon."


Have you ever heard your local meteorologist drop these phrases and were unsure exactly to where they were referring? Me too, at one point. The importance of understanding the geography of your area and surrounding areas cannot be understated enough. A major aspect of weather forecasting is reliant upon citizens knowing where they live, being able to find themselves on a map, and knowing how to make plans regarding where significant weather is now and where it may be later. Thus, this blog provides a brief overview to the three well-known regions and eleven, perhaps lesser-known, sub-regions of NC.

Blog Archive

North Carolina's Geographic Regions and Sub-regions


BLog 5: NC's Sub-regions

Knowing the region in which you reside and surrounding areas is critical to weather awareness


Figure 2. A graphic highlighting the familiar mountains (brown), Piedmont (green), and Coastal Plain (blue) geographic regions of North Carolina. County boundaries do not necessarily serve as the most appropiate boundaries for these geographic regions, thus the overlap and varied boundaries between regions in this rough sketch of mine. Each of the eleven subregions defined below are all smaller subsets of these three primary regions.

The three primary regions of North Carolina: Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain


Most of us are likely familiar with North Carolina's mountains, Piedmont, and the Coastal Plain desginations. This serves as a starting point for our understanding of North Carolina's geography. With an elevation range of 6,684 feet atop Mount Mitchell down to sea level at the coast, North Carolina boasts some of the most diverse geography, which in turn drives some of the most diverse weather conditions, east of the Mississippi River.


The mountains region, shaded in brown in the photo below, boast both the wettest and driest locations not only just in the state, but in the entire eastern United States1. Upslope flow along mountains south and west of Asheville give way to isolated annual precipitation amounts exceeding 90 inches, while just about 50 miles north lies the driest area guarded by mountains in nearly every direction. The mountains are also unsurprisingly the coldest region in the state on average. The population of the mountains region is approximately 1.2 million2.


The Piedmont region, shaded in light green below, is where the majority of agriculture is and where the bulk of North Carolinians reside. With a population of approximately 6.9 million, the Piedmont is home to rolling hills, dense deciduous and long-leaf pine forests, and is usually the battleground zone for large weather sytems such as winter storms, where mere miles can make the difference between a dusting of snow versus several inches.


The Coastal Plain is home to approximately 2.8 million North Carolinians and is shaded in light blue below. The inner Coastal Plain, including the cities of Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Wilson, and Rocky Mount, among others, is climatologically the warmest portion of the state and exhibits oppresive humidity in the summer. Autumn can also be a wild season for the Coastal Plain, as significant portions of this region are low-lying and have substantial susceptibility to both freshwater river and saltwater flooding if any tropical cyclones come along.

Figure 1. The eleven geographic sub-regions of North Carolina: The Foothills, Unifour, Metrolina, Piedmont Triad, Sandhills, Triangle, Golden East, SENC, Down East, Albermarle, and the Outer Banks. Each of the sub-regions are outlined below in addition to the three main regions. The black triangle in the light blue region depicts the Triad cities (Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point), and the triangle in the red shading depicts the Triangle cities (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill).

gallery/nc geography (1)

The eleven sub-regions North Carolina: A breakdown


When a certain area contains a significant centralization of population or residents strongly identify with the geography of a region, a name or designation is often assigned to the area for easier communication and grouping of people on a larger scale.


Below is a map of the eleven sub-regions that can be substantiated with evidence online or in literature3 to exist in this day and age to refer to people of a certain region. I say "exist in this day and age," because populations are dynamic, and regions change character over time - some regions may be referred to something now that they once were not. These regions are likely to be defined at least a little bit differently by each person that you ask, so this blog serves as a general overview of these regions for your knowledge. Do not take any of the graphics below to be rigid and exact - I welcome and information, clarification, or points of contention from people who live in these regions if you feel that a region is not accurately depicted or represented.




Population (approx.): 650,000

Primary geography: Mostly mountains, some Piedmont

Greatest assets to NC: Textiles, timber, poultry, winery, tourism

AKA: "Blue Ridge Foothills", "South Mountains Region"

Population (approx.): 340,000

Primary geography: Mostly mountains, some Piedmont

Greatest assets to NC: Artisans, fiber-optic cable production, data analytics

AKA: "Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metropolitation Statistical Area"



Population (approx.): 2.5 million

Primary geography: All Piedmont

Greatest assets to NC: Auto racing, banking and finance, manufacturing

AKA: "Greater Charlotte", "Charlotte Metro"

Piedmont Triad


Population (approx.): 1.6 million

Primary geography: All Piedmont

Greatest assets to NC: Furniture, tobacco, American Civil Rights history

AKA: "The Triad", "WGHP"



Population (approx.): 520,000

Primary geography: Piedmont/Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Longleaf Pine trees, golf, peaches, Fort Bragg




Population (approx.): 2.1 million

Primary geography: Mostly Piedmont, some Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Education, tech/business, college basketball, medicine

AKA: "RTP", "Research Triangle"

These eleven subregions can be of great use in weather communication, as many mesoscale or storm-scale weather systems impact one area while not even coming close to another. I urge you to become familiar with these regions if you reside within North Carolina, and if you do not, explore the geography and population regions/sectors in your state or nation. A fundamental knowledge of geography is required to understand and improve communication of time-sensitive weather information and dispersing it to the masses. #KnowYourGeo


If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to send them along on Facebook, Twitter, or via email to [email protected] 









3. Sources for information, tourism guides, and socioeconomic data for each sub-region listed above:




State Climate Office of North Carolina


NASA's Socioeconomic Data And Applications Center (SEDAC)


Farm Flavor




Southeastern NC


Population (approx.): 1.1 million

Primary geography: All Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Pork, sweet potatoes, military installations, tourism

AKA: "SENC", "North Carolina's Southeast"

Golden East


Population (approx.): 297,000

Primary geography: All Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: BB&T, transportation, tobacco, distribution/logistics

AKA: "Rocky Mount-Wilson-Roanoke Rapids CSA", "Rocky Mount-Wilson"

Down East


Population (approx.): 670,000

Primary geography: All Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Military installations, seafood/fishing, tourism




Population (approx.): 195,000

Primary geography: All Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Peanuts, early American history, wildlife preservation

AKA: "Northeastern North Carolina"


Outer Banks

Population (approx.): 40,000

Primary geography: All Coastal Plain

Greatest assets to NC: Tourism, aviation, seafood