West Virginia preppers face many of the same threats as anyone else in America: civil collapse, EMP, natural disasters, etc. However, West Virginians have unique challenges than preppers in other states. What makes sense for a prepper in Alaska may not make sense for a prepper in Idaho.
This applies to West Virginia as well. This article will focus on West Virginia from a prepper’s perspective. What specific challenges does the state face from a historical perspective? What are the threats given the state’s geography? Where should West Virginians prioritize their preps?
NOTE: Do you live in West Virginia? You know your state, so let us know in the comments section how this article can be improved. What did we miss? What did we get right?
West Virginia Overview – Prepper’s Perspective
Located in the remote, rugged Appalachian region of the southern United States, West Virginia stands as the unsung haven for preppers, survivalist, and people that simply want to get away. Though it is considered part of the middle Atlantic States, this region stands out on its own. West Virginia is the 38th most populous state, but the 41st most extensive. The result is a sparsely populated, mountainous region that garners little concern or attention by the rest of the country. It is centrally located and borders five states, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio.
The state has several nicknames, but the “Mountain State” stands out amongst the rest. West Virginia’s mountainous terrain earns it this moniker, but drastically mischaracterizes the state as being nothing but mountains. However, people will be surprised to find out that West Virginia has a fairly distinguished and innovative history. It was the first state to offer schooling to African American students, the first to organize a golf club and the first to layout brick streets. Additionally it was also the state to use advertising and to introduce a sales tax.
For those that crave natural beauty, they should look no further than the mountainous terrain West Virginia has to offer. Nature lovers will be thrilled with expansive forests like the Monongahela with its pristine mountain gorges. The New River Gorge will stun those that have never stood in it and marveled at the untouched beauty it presents. Hunting and fishing along the Elk, Ohio, and Potomac rivers is second to none.
However, the untouched natural beauty comes at a fairly substantial economic cost. The state is among the 10 poorest states in the US. This may also illuminate why it also ranks in the bottom 10 states for educational attainment. Only 83% of residents earn high school diplomas and a dismal 18% hold bachelor’s degrees. The state is an excellent location for someone that cares nothing for material wealth, but would rather invest heavily in experiencing the natural wealth that the rugged Appalachian Mountains have to offer.
When you think of mountains and their climate, you picture snowy peaks and frigid rivers snaking around warm cabins. Despite the mountainous terrain that West Virginia is made up of, this could not be further from the truth. The state’s climate is a humid subtropical one that will likely result in far more sweat than shivers. Winter average temperatures only range from 26 degrees F near the Cheat River to 41 degrees F along the border with Kentucky. With this rather high winter temperature, the ideal winter cabin retreat is likely not a reality in West Virginia.
However, moderate summers are a distinct possibility. Summer temperatures range from 67 degrees F to 76 degrees F creating an environment that is far from hot. With temperatures like this, living a fairly frugal existence with low energy demands is well with the realm of possibilities. With a stove for the occasional winter cold and an open window on the side a mountain, West Virginia is extremely livable with little energy consumption.
Precipitation, however, can be fairly substantial. As we will soon see, the rainfall in combination with the rivers and the stony ground can wreck absolute havoc across West Virginia. Annual average precipitation ranges from 32 inches in the lower eastern section to 56 inches in higher parts of the state. Snowfall makes up around 34 inches of that precipitation annually, but is largely concentrated in the upper elevations.
Food and Water
West Virginia is the home of the small farm. More than any other state, West Virginia offers opportunities for those wanting to have the small farm life experience. The state has approximately 23,000 farms that average 157 acres. In an era when the large factory farm is the norm, this is truly something exceptional. If your goal is to have a homestead that you can live and work on, West Virginia may be the location for you.
Surprisingly, the state’s top agricultural commodity is not any sort of row crop, but broiler chickens. Their production makes up a disproportional 30% of its agricultural receipts. The balance is made up of other products including dairy, turkeys, chicken eggs, hogs, and lambs. This is not to say that the state produces no row crops. On the contrary it has a healthy production of hay, apples, corn, soybeans, peaches, and honey. In certain parts of the state even farm-raised fish are a lucrative venture.
Drinking water is not an issue in West Virginia. The state has several large rivers that are utilized to fill reservoirs. These large bodies of water are used to provide drinking water to the residents of the state. Additionally, they are the primary method to control flooding.
West Virginia is a well known conservative stronghold. For now, that seems to hold true through the various election cycles. However, as time progresses the more moderate liberal wing of political thought seems to be taking hold in population centers across the state. While it is far from over turning the conservative control of the state, nearly a third of the state are registered Democrats. This is largely a function of trying to counter the coal companies hold on the state as evidenced by large pockets of democratic voters in the coal fields across the state.
Despite the political tension just below the surface, the state remains firmly in Republican control. The state’s governor and one of its senators are members of the Republican Party. This political dynamic seems unlikely to go anywhere if things persist. However, their hold is not a forgone conclusion. Each election cycle demonstrates the continuing struggle that the Republicans have in maintaining control of the government.
In demonstrating the political tension of the state, the other senator of West Virginia is a member of the Democratic party. This leads to the two senators of the state being frequently in opposition to one another. It further demonstrates the undercurrent of Democratic momentum in a state that is largely thought to be conservative. Given the split tensions between the two parties, a weather eye must remain on the politics of the state if political conflict is of any concern to the prepper.
The total population of the state is a very small 1.7 million people. This population is nearly evenly split between women (50.6%) and men (49.4%). When you consider that downtown Manhattan has nearly 8 million people in just a few city blocks, it is fascinating that an entire state has less than two million people. This shows the opportunity for isolation for the prepper.
West Virginia’s median age is a bit older at 45 years. The ideological and religious makeup is staunchly Christian as they make up 78.6% of the state. This is largely a legacy of the Great Awakening movements that took over the Appalachian region like wildfire a century ago. Today, the population carries on this tradition, but it seems to be waning as time goes on.
The state does not have a robust racial makeup. The vast majority of the inhabitants are white evangelicals. Most Native Americans have been gone from the area since the Tyler and Jackson administrations forcibly removed them nearly 200 years ago. As an early abolitionist state, there was never a large African population in the state. The current racial makeup of West Virginia is as follows:
- White 92%
- Black 3.6%
- Two or More Races 1.8%
- Hispanic 1.6%
- Asian 0.8%
- Native American 0.2%
The crime rate of West Virginia is nothing to get excited about. It is neither terribly bad nor good. If you’re a resident of West Virginia, your chances of becoming the victim of a violent crime are 1 in 282. The murder rate is the same as the national average at 0.07 per 1000 people. You are no more likely to be a victim of violent crime in West Virginia than in anywhere else in the nation.
West Virginia is also a place that is largely safe from property crime. The robbery rate is below the national average and your chances of becoming the victim of a property crime are 1 in 72. Additionally, the state’s burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft rates are below the national average. This is in spite of the low economic output of the state and can largely be explained by the low population of West Virginia. In short, there just are so few people there that crime is less of an issue than it is in other places.
West Virginia Natural Disasters
1) The Layland Mine Explosion (1915) – For many years, coal mining was the main export of West Virginia. However, with mining comes inherit dangers. In 1915, many of the safety protocols, processes, and systems were yet to be implemented. At the Layland Mine, this came home to roost. An explosion within the mine killed 114 people. While this is tragic, it is even more so when you consider that not everyone died immediately. Many of the men died from suffocation as rescue efforts were underway.
2) The Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster (1927) – In another, less dramatic but ever still tragic, mining disaster, The Hawk’s Nest Tunnel mine claimed the lives of many West Virginia miners. Sent into mine silica, none of the miners were equipped with any form of breathing protection. In sudden shock and surprise to the mining community and state, they quickly developed lung diseases. The end death toll was 476 dead as a result.
3) The Shinnston Tornado (1944) – Though they are rare, tornados still strike West Virginia from time to time. In 1944 one of the most deadly tornados the state has ever seen ripped through the town of Shinnston. Within just two minutes of traveling through the town, this 1000’ wide tornado killed 153, injured 800, and wrecked 400 homes. The tornado remains astonishing to this day considering the brevity of its life and the destruction it left behind.
4) The Silver Bridge Collapse – In 1967, tragedy struck West Virginia. An engineering marvel of a bridge turned against them and claimed the lives of several residents. A total of 46 people died in West Virginia this day after a well-traveled bridge collapsed into the river below. Between drownings and the general destruction, this event proved to be one of the darkest days in West Virginia’s history for the proceeding twenty years.
5) The Farmington Mine Disaster – In 1968 a freak explosion killed 78 miners. To this day, no one has been able to discover what caused the explosion. It is expected that inadequate ventilation was the primary cause. When the miners released a large methane gas pocket, there was no where for it to go. It was only a matter of time before something sparked the explosion. Substantial government legislation was enacted as a result of this event.
6) Marshall University Plane Crash (1970) – Depicted in the movie, “We Are Marshall”, over 40 college students were killed – most of them being college football players – after their team plane crashed into a hill in West Virginia. It was determined that a combination of terrain, weather, aircraft load, and pilot error resulted in the deadly crash that marred the hearts and memories of West Virginia that November day.
7) The Buffalo Creek Dam Break– In 1972 a coal slurry impoundment burst, sending millions of gallons down into the Buffalo Creek. While this was a mild inconvenience, the sudden rush of water caused the Buffalo Creek Dam to burst. When it did, 125 were killed in the proceeding tidal wave that engulfed the valley. At the end of the event 4000 were left homeless and over 500 homes were destroyed.
8) The Willow Island Disaster – In 1978 a cooling tower that was under construction collapsed killing 51 construction workers. As construction workers raised buckets of concrete up the tower, the crane doing the lifting fell inside the tower due to being off balance. As it fell it started a chain reaction of the previous day’s construction collapsing onto the scaffolding. When the event occurred those who were on the scaffolding working on the tower at the time had no escape. The event would go on to become known as the deadliest construction accident in US history.
9) The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster –Many of the mine disasters that plague West Virginia are decades old. However, in 2010 an explosion within a coal mine here killed 29 miners bringing a mine disaster into modern times. When the investigation proceeded, it was shown that the mine in question had a series of safety regulation violations over the years. The explosion came as no surprise to those that were intimately familiar with the mine’s lack of concern for safety.
10) Aqua-pocalypse – In them most recent of West Virginia’s mining disasters, thousands of gallons of a chemical known as MCHM – used in coal washing – were spilled into the Elk River. This resulted in nobody being able to drink the water in large parts of West Virginia for days to weeks. In the worst case scenario many people ended up in the emergency room after being suddenly poisoned by their own tap water.
West Virginia Prepping Challenges
West Virginia’s most common natural disasters are floods, winter storms, severe storms, landslides, and wildfires. However, though these exist, they are not nearly as deadly or dramatic as the manmade disasters that seem to plague the state. West Virginia has a long history of human failures causing pain, misery, and death. The result is miners getting injured, engineering failures, and water being undrinkable and destructive. I highly recommend getting your water storage and filtration systems in place if you’re going to live here.
West Virginia Prepping Strategies
Many disasters could befall a prepper in West Virginia, but only a few are likely to result in serious injury and death. The most dangerous thing, by far, in the state is the mining industry. Therefore, most of your activities as a prepper will likely have to be centered on dealing with a potential failure on their part.
If you are forced to bug in during a disaster in West Virginia, it is highly likely that water will be involved. No matter if it is the result of a flood from a damn breaking or the contamination of your local water supply, having an abundance of clean water nearby will be an absolute must on top of the means to filter water at home.
Using food grade containers to store at least 8 gallons of water per person per month. That means a 6 month supply of water for a family of 4 is just short of 200 gallons of water. While this sounds like a lot, it is only four 55-gallon food grade drums full of water for half a year. Don’t be caught during the next MCHM spill without any water.
While having water stored is great, getting the water into your storage system filtered is absolutely essential in this part of the world. Having a filtration system installed into your house will likely prevent accidental ingestion of chemicals during a spill, but will also prevent rouge cancers caused by trace chemicals that are injected into the water supply by mining operations. Having one installed in your house is the ideal, but should be reinforced by smaller water filters to use at home in a crisis.
Stay Out of the Valleys
West Virginia has a lot of water and is made up of extremely rocky ground. This is a recipe for a flash flood of epic proportions. The only way you can truly mitigate this risk is by giving the water a wide berth to swell and go down without taking your home with it. Therefore, when you purchase a home or plot of land, suffer the mountain roads and get well away from the tempting river valleys and beautiful creeks. While picturesque, they can be deadly under the right conditions.
One of the most important pieces of equipment for any prepper planning to bug out is to have decent maps of their state. Having an identified bug out location is crucial. All preppers in any state should begin their bug out plans with a paper map of their state. Nothing is better for all-purpose use than the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.
- Includes back roads, elevation contours, recreational areas, etc.
- Paperback for easy carry and storage
Stay out of Mines
Mining operations have been going on in the Appalachian Mountains for well over 100 years. In that time a legion of mines have been started, mined, and abandoned. During a bug out situation it will be tempting to venture into the mines to seek shelter and solitude. You must not do this.
Mines are inherently dangerous when they are occupied and well maintained. Once they have set up for a time and been subject to the ebbs and flows of time, they become outright deadly. Stay well clear of old mines as you seek safety. The one exception to this might be if you need a fallout shelter and have not built one from Cold War era designs.
Proper Rain Gear
West Virginia is a beautiful, warm, and wet place. However, hypothermia can strike with temperatures well into the 70s. Therefore, as you move through the mountains it is important to stay dry in a state that produces a substantial amount of rain. A good hat, jacket, and gaiters are essential elements to maintaining dry warmth and staving off hypothermia and discomfort. Look at using merino wool as a base layer as well to prevent heat loss as you get wet on the move.
Get a .22 Rifle
This state is overrun with wildlife and there is simply no reason why you should go hungry. As you bug out, a simple .22LR will enable you to harvest game and keep yourself fed. The .22 is lightweight, versatile, and effective in the right hands. Though many laws forbid their use for different forms of hunting, during a bug out scenario they could be used to feed a family with ease. They can even kill a deer in ideal circumstances.
Further Reading For West Virginia Preppers
This article just scratches the surface of what West Virginia preppers need to know. The following links could held educate you more on prepping in the state.
West Virginia Emergency Management – West Virginia’s government disaster response page complete with information, resources and training.
West Virginia Flood Mapping Tool – Flood awareness tool that tracks what areas are flooded and what areas are safe in real time.
Appalachian Forrest Farmer Coalition – Active, private Facebook group centered around living off the land in West Virginia.
Appalachian Forrest Farmers – Thriving coalition of people that seek to live off the land in West Virginia.
Fortitude Ranch – Multi-state school taught by veterans with a class in West Virginia. They teach all things prepping and survival.
North American Bushcraft School -Teaches courses in homesteading, survival, and bushcraft. Overnight and day courses available.