Geography Of West Virginia


West Virginia is sometimes called the “Panhandle State” attributed to the fact that it is shaped like a large pan with two handles-one in the north and the other one in the east (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).  West Virginia is located in the south-eastern portion of the United States, and it is ranked forty-first in size among the fifty states (Petreycik, 2007). The location of West Virginia has played an indispensible role in delineating events that affect the state such as the civil war, space exploration, American Revolution, underground rail road, Louisiana Purchase, Gold Rush and World War II (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).

Virtually everything in line with West Virginia is delimited by its mountains with most of its boundaries being imprinted by rivers that originate in the various highlands (Byers, 2011). Further, Byers (2011) affirms that the pace of development and places of early settlement were determined by mountains and rivers, and much of the region’s wealth (coal, natural gas, petroleum, stones, and other natural resources) is located deep in the mountains. Moreover, wood valleys and forested peaks offer adequate provision of food and shelter to all residents across the state (Byers, 2011).


According to Petreycik (2007), the total area of West Virginia is purported to be 24, 230 square miles, and is ranked as forty-first biggest state in the United States. Further, the distance from north to south is approximated as 236 miles, and from east to west it is close to 264 miles (Petreycik, 2007). Additionally, the longitude of the state ranges from 77o 40′ W to 82o 40′ W, and the latitude from 37° 10’N to 40° 40’N (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). In light with this, much of West Virginia’s land is mountainous, with an average elevation of 1, 500 feet, thus the apt nickname, ‘Mountain State’ (Petreycik, 2007). Also, it is the highest of any state east of the Mississippi, and it is believed that the West Virginia’s mountain, are some of the oldest and ancient mountains in the world (Petreycik, 2007). The lowest point is Potomac River, which is set at 240 feet above the seal level (Petreycik, 2007). In addition, some geographers maintain the perception that if the mountains in West Virginia were to be flattened out, the effect; as well the area covered would exsert beyond borders of the United States (Petreycik, 2007).


The mountains separate the West Virginia State into three primary land regions; the Appalachian ridge and valley region, Appalachian plateau, also referred to as the Allegheny plateau (Byers, 2011), and the Blue Ridge Mountains (Petreycik, 2007). The Appalachian ridge and valley region are located east of the rugged Allegheny Mountains (Petreycik, 2007). The Allegheny Mountains begin in central Pennsylvania and extend through West Virginia and Maryland (Petreycik, 2007). In conjunction to this, the section of Alleghenies in West Virginia, provide the tallest mountains in the state, and they run along the state’s eastern border with Virginia (Petreycik, 2007). The highest point in West Virginia is located in the mountains, and Spruce knob rises more than 4, 861 feet above sea level (Petreycik, 2007).

Appalachian plateau region is situated west of the Alleghenies, and it covers about sixty percent of the state’s total land area (Petreycik, 2007). Notably, the region is densely populated, and as a result, it contains the finest cities of the state, mainly; Wheeling, Weirton, and Charleston, which is the state’s capital (Petreycik, 2007). Hoffman and Hart (2008) also avow that the Appalachian Plateau contains large deposits of coal, oil and gas, salt and iron ore. Blue Ridge Mountains, the third region, is 0located at the eastern tip of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle (Petreycik, 2007). The mountains are part of the Appalachian mountain chain that extends from Maine to Alabama (Petreycik, 2007). In addition to this, the Shenandoah Mountains are sited in this region, and Shenandoah and Potomac rivers flow through the region, depositing rich soil that supports the state’s thriving peach and apple orchards (Petreycik, 2007).


Some natural features-rivers and mountains, form the borders of the state. According to Petreycik (2007) the borders can be associated with Pennsylvania and Maryland to the north, Virginia to the south and east, and Kentucky and Ohio, forming the western border. Besides, several rivers form boundary lines between West Virginia and neighbouring states (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). The Ohio River separates the state from the state of Ohio, the Tug Fork and Big Sandy rivers specify the state’s border with both Virginia and Kentucky (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). Moreover, the Potomac River flows along West Virginia’s border with Maryland (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).

Water bodies and Waterways

The water area of the West Virginia is approximatly145 square miles, and the state has about seventy small lakes and ponds, all of them presumed to be artificial lakes (Petreycik, 2007). Most of these lakes and ponds were formed when dams were built across rivers, and other water ways, to aid in the control of snowmelt, rainwater, and overflow from West Virginia’s many rivers and streams (Petreycik, 2007). Consequently, the largest state’s reservoirs are Summersville and Sutton Lake, both located in the central part of the state (Petreycik, 2007). Further, there are other prime rivers apart from Shenandoah and Potomac, and they encompass; Kanawha, Elk, Coal, Pocatalico, Little Kanawha, Greek, Cacapon, Greenbrier, New, Monongahela, Big Sandy, Guyandotte, Cheat and Tygart rivers (Petreycik, 2007).

In conjunction to this, many of the state’s waterways lead to waterfalls (Petreycik, 2007), and some of the rivers are fast flowing and fierce, especially the New and Gauley rivers, which are characterized by whirlpools and rapids (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). However, some rivers, Cheat and Tygart in the north and south branch of the Potomac River, are slow and mild, which can allow sufficient swimming, rafting and canoeing during the spring (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). In light with this, the Shenandoah River in the eastern panhandle and the Greenbrier River in the south are exceedingly slow and quiet, thus, making them safe and ideal places for first-time paddlers looking for scenic beauty, and historic sites (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).


Byers (2011) asserts that, in Appalachians, elevation instead of location has the biggest effect on the climate. Further Byers (2011) still confirms that the small state of West Virginia has three different life zones, areas with distinct or trenchant climate, vegetation and animal life. Conventionally, West Virginia has cold winters and hot summers, nevertheless, different regions in the state vary in average temperatures (Petreycik, 2007). In January, the average low temperature in the state’s mountainous region is 22 degrees, and in the state’s southern most regions, the average low temperature is 27 degrees (Petreycik, 2007).

Besides, West Virginia’s Eastern panhandle, which is not, far from the Atlantic Ocean, experience fair weather conditions throughout most of the years (Petreycik, 2007). The winds blowing in from the ocean, also affect the climate a vast deal, attributed to the fact that they assist in cooling temperatures during the summer, and regulating temperatures during the winter (Petreycik, 2007). Apart from the temperatures, the area also receives a slew of precipitation each year, and around 44 inches of water, fall in the form of snow, rain or sleet (Petreycik, 2007). The annual snowfall differs significantly throughout the state, and it ranges from 20 inches in the southwest to nearly 100 inches in the mountainous areas (Petreycik, 2007). Very little snow falls in the coastal Eastern panhandle area (Petreycik, 2007). Furthermore, the rainfall in West Virginia is produced by three main weather conditions; thunderstorms that amount to sudden downpours during summer, fall remnants of hurricanes blowing form the Gulf of Mexico, and the winter stalled storm fronts (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).

At times, the state also experience extreme weather and climatic conditions, and Hoffman and Hart (2008) argue that the state frequently receives too much precipitation, which amounts to floods. Also, the three types of weather conditions- thunderstorms during summer fall remnants of hurricanes, and the winter stalled storm fronts-have the capability of producing enough precipitation to cause massive flooding (Hoffman & Hart, 2008), which can be terribly dangerous and can destroy most of the towns in the state, as exhibited in the past years (Petreycik, 2007). As well, there have been reported cases of acute temperature, for instance in August 4, 1930, a sizzling temperature of 112 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in Moorfield, and the same, was also witnessed in Martinsburg on July, October, 1936 (Petreycik, 2007).
Wildlife (Plant and Animal Life)

Centuries ago, West Virginia was covered with magnificent forests, and with time, the finest woods have been wiped out attributed to patronized logging, frequent fires, mineral extraction industries and farming (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). Currently, the second and later-growth trees cover about four-fifths of the state (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). Similarly, several flowering plants of all kinds, inclusive of wild flower, can be found in various regions of the state (Hoffman & Hart, 2008). Petreycik (2007) also confirms that trees and flowers are not the only plants that thrive in West Virginia, but the Mountain state is also home to shrubs.

The forests also provide refuge for most animals and birds, and the most common animal species found in the state encompass black bears, groundhogs, rabbits, racoons, skunks, squirrels, white-tailed dears and bobcats (Petreycik, 2007). On the other hand, different species of geese, ducks and other water birds, imputed to the several water bodies and waterways constitute some of the birds found in the region (Petreycik, 2007). Likewise, there are several species of insects, snakes and fish found in the state (Petreycik, 2007; Hoffman & Hart, 2008). However, the industrial revolution and activities have amounted to severe backlash that led pollution of the environment and death of various organisms (Hoffman & Hart, 2008).


In a nutshell, West Virginia is a magnificent state endowed with numerous natural resources and spectacular panoramas. Additionally, the various mountains, terrains, hills, ridges and rivers delimitate the nature of the region, determining the population of wildlife-wild plants and animals- and even the human population. As well, the natural features profoundly influence the climate of the region, thus evincing the varied temperatures and rain or snow falls. In connection to this, the pronounced human activities have resulted to the defilement of most of these areas imposing danger to the organisms, and ultimately their death. Nonetheless, pertinent measures have been taken to reduce pollution and conserve the environment for the well being of wildlife and humans in generals.

Byers, A. (2011). West Virginia: Past and Present. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
Hoffman, N. & Hart, J. (2008). West Virginia. Celebrate the States. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Petreycik, R. (2007). West Virginia. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.