Here's a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: How many square miles is the state of Washington?
Orv Trapp, a reader of The Olympian, retired nuclear engineer and trustworthy news source when I was covering the failed construction of the Washington Public Power Supply System nuclear power plants at Satsop some 30 years ago, posed the question to me after reading a story in our paper that referenced the state as 66,582 square miles in size.
He pointed out that the official state map printed every two years by the state Department of Transportation lists the state at 68,139 miles, a discrepancy that can’t be explained away by coastal land erosion or some other modern-day geologic event.
Further complicating matters, a 1978 World Book that Trapp keeps at home listed the state at 68,192 square miles, and a 2009-2010 Rand McNally road atlas he has uses the figure 66,544 square miles.
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“Why do I care?” Trapp asked. “I just like to read maps, and I do care about the size of Washington state.”
So I decided to poke around in search of the right number.
I started by posing the question on Google and came up with the number 71,303. That included 66,582 square miles of land area and 4,721 square miles covered by water. Well, at least the land area matches the figure used in the newspaper story.
The Washington Almanac, a 1999 book of facts and figures that I pulled out of the newspaper’s reference library, weighed in at 66,581 square miles of land area.
Then I turned to what should be some fairly reliable sources, and I think I found the answer.
The United States Geological Survey, U.S. Census Bureau and Washington Data Book published by the Office of Financial Management all list the state land area at 66,544 square miles.
I think the USGS is the definitive source on the matter, actually listing state size at 66,544.06 square miles.
Before moving on to other topics of great import, I called DOT cartographer Mark Bozanich to see if he could shed any light on the number the DOT uses associated with the official state map.
“We got that number from an employee in our graphics department, but he’s retired now,” Bozanich said. “Now that you’ve pointed it out, I think we’ll use the figure from the more official sources.”
There you have it, Orv: 66,544 square miles.
Here it is, five days before Christmas, and I’m more ready and less stressed than I usually am as the day draws near.
A few cases in point:
• I’m all done shopping for gifts. I started early – two weeks before Thanksgiving, during a weekend trip to Portland – and I finished Dec. 16. Cutting back on purchases in this recession- ravaged year sure helped.
• We bought a noble fir at a Christmas tree farm next door to Horsefeathers Farm on Dec. 12, carried it home and mounted it in the tree stand without the typical frustrations and swear words. We proceeded to decorate the tree with a box full of ornaments that evoke memories of the passing years – for example, the decorations my kids, now 23 and 19, made in grade school. There also is an animal theme sprinkled throughout the tree – nesting birds, birds in flight, cats, deer, dogs and horses.
One sad note: I shattered an orca ornament that I brushed against while watering what has turned out to be a very thirsty tree.
• The rib roast is ordered for Christmas dinner, a dinner I hope is more successful than the Thanksgiving Day dinner we prepared this year.
I took quite a needling from readers about the column I wrote detailing the trials and tribulations of cooking Thanksgiving Day dinner for a party of eight, which turned out to be five.
I meant the column to be tongue-in-cheek, but it came out sounding whiny.
Anyway, the Christmas dinner in the works is proof I haven’t given up on cooking holiday dinners and reaping the benefits of all the leftovers.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444