West Virginia is one of the smallest states in the United States. The state sits in the country’s southeastern part, bordered by Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Popularly called the Mountain State, West Virginia has many scenic landscapes such as valleys, mountains, and rivers and is completely within the Appalachian Mountain region.
According to the West Virginia Division of Forestry, about 78% of the state is covered with forest trees. The forests and hilly terrain of the state provide many activities for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, such as mountain biking. When it begins to snow in the Mid-Atlantic state, West Virginia becomes a favored destination for skiing lovers. This begs the question: how early or late does West Virginia get its first snow? Discover the mystery and patterns of West Virginia’s first snows below.
Understanding First Snow in West Virginia
West Virginia is known for its warm summers and cold/mild winters. The climate conditions in the state vary between counties, and this disparity is obvious in the first snow pattern in the state. According to news reports, West Virginia often sees its first snowfall in October.
Snow is formed when ice crystals in the clouds come together. This occurs because the atmospheric temperature is below zero degrees Celsius. However, snowfall will only reach the ground if the ground temperature is zero degrees or less. West Virginia has a rugged terrain filled with hills, valleys, and the Allegheny Mountain Ranges, which is considered one of the best places to catch fall foliage. These terrains give the state a higher elevation than many eastern states. The areas with higher altitudes are cold and have heavier snowfall.
West Virginia gets its first telling of winter, more than a month before winter begins. This first foray of snow in the state occurs during fall, covering the beautiful autumn leaves with a thin white layer. It is usually brief, and accumulation on the ground is mostly in grassy areas.
Earliest and Latest First Snows in West Virginia
According to news reports, the earliest first snow in West Virginia occurred on October 10, 1979, in Beckley City, Raleigh County. It was reported that the entire East Coast was shocked by the punctuality of the snow that year as cold air swept over the eastern states.
Based on account of the Great Lakes Integrated Science and Assessments, a reason for the unique snowfall patterns in West Virginia is the lake effect. Due to the closeness to the Great Lakes, areas downwind of the lakes have an increase in precipitation, causing heavier and early snowfall.
However, while some states in West Virginia can get their first sight of snowflakes in October, other places get theirs in November. According to news reports, western parts of the Mountain State would get their first snow just before December, cutting it close to the winter month.
Record Snowfall in West Virginia
According to the National Weather Service, West Virginia’s heaviest snowfall in a season measured about 301.4 inches. This heavy snowfall occurred in Kumbrabow State Forest in Randolph County during the winter of 1959 to 1960.
How Long Are Winters in West Virginia?
In the Mountain State, winter can last for up to three months. However, snowfall varies in different parts of the state. According to reports, Huntington City only has snow for about 6.3 days annually and can see an accumulation of 11.5 inches. On the other hand, Snowshoe City has a snowfall of 51.4 days and 159 inches.
Winter Wildlife in West Virginia
During the cold winter, humans can stay indoors and make fires or use their heaters. While such luxuries are available to humans, some animals and plants find a way to survive during this cold weather through hibernation. Animals such as bats, snakes, and groundhogs, hibernate in caves or burrows throughout the winter and might not be seen until spring.
These animals lower their metabolism, breathing, body temperature, and heart rate to aid their survival while they rest. However, not all animals go to sleep during the winter. If you venture out in West Virginia, you will still encounter several local animals. Based on account of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, some active wildlife during the winter include:
West Virginia’s State Animal: Not Quite a Hibernator
The state animal of West Virginia is the North American black bear, considered a hibernator by many, but it has a different hibernation process. While these large mammals lower their metabolism and respiratory rate during the cold winter, they do not drop their body temperature as much as other hibernators. Thus, they can be roused easily and sometimes venture out of their dens during warm winters.
In the periods leading to their hibernation, these black bears can consume 90 pounds of food per day in preparation for the snowy days ahead. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, bears in southern states have fewer hibernation periods than those in northern states.
Snowiest Town in West Virginia
According to the U.S. Climate Data, Terra Alta is the snowiest town in West Virginia, with an average snowfall of 172 inches. Further reports claim that Terra Alta has snowfall for up to 5.5 months annually, from late October to early April.
The town’s name, Terra Alta, translates to “high land” in Latin, which is a suitable description of the Preston County town. Terra Alta sits at about 2,500 feet above sea level and is partly cloudy all year round. These unique atmospheric features of the town are why Terra Alta gets quite snowy during the winter.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- West Virginia DNR, Available here: https://wvdnr.gov/wv-winter-wildlife-viewing-checklist/
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Available here: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/bear/facts/hibernation/
- West Virginia Division of Forestry, Available here: https://wvforestry.com/why-forests-matter-5-reasons-west-virginias-forests-are-important/
- 12WBOY, Available here: https://www.wboy.com/weather/when-was-the-earliest-snow-in-west-virginia-history/