Warm January Afternoon on the Beach
There are reasons that we live along the North Carolina coast. One of them is that we get the opportunity to walk along the beach when people to the north of us are often shivering in the snow.
Not every winter do we have a series of warm January days which make the beach suitable for walking. Sometimes the ocean water gets so cold that the wind coming off the water can put real meaning into the words “wind chill.”
No such problems have bothered us during the winter of 2012. The ocean water is much warmer than it was last year when we had a serious winter that turned out snowy and eventually was recognized as the most severe winter here on the coast in the last 100 years.
This year winter has been more like our first three years at the beach, 2006-2009, when cold weather never really found us for any length of time. During January 2007, I kept track of our temperatures. We only had nineteen hours when the temperature was below freezing.
January 2012 hasn’t been quite that warm. As of January 29, my records show that our area three miles north of Swansboro and just off the White Oak River has seen a total of thirty-two hours below freezing. That compares to ninety-six hours below freezing in the Roanoke, Virginia area.
Just inland from the beaches we have enjoyed fifteen days during January 2012 when the temperature was 60F or better. There were another nine days when we saw at least 50F. I consider it a winter day when we don’t reach 50F, and when we don’t get to 40F, it is a very cold winter day. There have only been two days so far in January 2012 when we didn’t reach 40F so I am not going to complain.
Though it has been a very busy month for me, I have managed a couple of nice beach walks including one that lasted nearly four hours when I was testing my new beach camera. My skiff has also been out on the White Oak River a number of times. On January 25, I took the skiff down the river to Swansboro and rode around in the marshes. The next day I went kayaking in the afternoon on the river. The weather was almost perfect for all of my out-door adventures.
Both trips on the water were very enjoyable, but not nearly as much fun as my nearly four hours walking around the Point on January 24. When I left our home in Bluewater Cove, the temperature was well over 70F on our front porch. When I left my truck at the Station Street Parking lot and started walking to the beach, the temperature was still 64F. I managed to do my beach hike very comfortably just wearing a long sleeve tee-shirt and blue jeans. I actually saw a family wading around in the water. There were a number of tracks showing people enjoying the beach without shoes.
It really was a magic time to be over on the beach. There was a light breeze and warm sunshine. Along with all the changes in the sand over at the Point, there was a strong east flowing current running back from the Point down the beach towards the town.
If you have never experienced the panorama of sand, sea, and sky that is the Point at Emerald Isle, you might want to watch the video that I took of the Point on January 25. If your browser supports it, and if you have a fast Internet connection, watch it in 720P HD video. This is the link for the YouTube movie.
I love the beach anytime of the year, even when it is cold. However, when you get a magic day in January where you can enjoy the beach without even a coat, it really is a special day that helps shorten our “winter.”
As February rolls into town, we will probably have some cold weather, but by the end of February, the North Carolina sun is starting to work its magic. As of the end of January, we already have some lettuce and radish seeds that have sprouted in our winter garden patch.
I’m looking forward to local strawberries in late March this year and some wonderful, late February beach walks. It you want to see more pictures of my walk over on the Point, you can find them at this Picasa Web Album link.
More information, pictures and links relating to the area can be found on my Crystal Coast Links page or my Welcome to the Beach page.
If all this talk of the beach puts you in a good mood, read my post about why Beaufort, NC should win the Best Small Town of 2012 contest, and then go vote for Beaufort.
Every year we get to a time when it make sense to declare it winter at the beach. It doesn’t happen with the first shot of cold air, but some years it does come earlier than other years.
In 2010-11, winter descended onto the beach early in December. It only began to relent a little by the last week of January. This year has been completely different. We have not had the snow that made last year’s winter one that we will remember.
This week we did finally get an inch of rain that reminded me of the rain that came last year towards the end of January. With 2012 starting out dry, we needed the rain.
This has actually been a very nice winter so far. We have seen a number of days including today, January 12, 2012, make it into the sixties and sometimes even the seventies.
Still, even here along the peaceful shores of the Crystal Coast, winter eventually touches us. When there is a near blizzard in Chicago, some of those cold winds usually make their way down the slopes of the Appalachians to our coastal plains.
When the cold winds come after the water has cooled well below sixty degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes winter at the beach. It’s not that it is a bad time to be at the beach. It is just very different from those days when wearing shorts and wading in the water is standard practice. Of course in the winter, there are no crowds.
I had hoped to go for a walk on the Point today, but I was delayed by some things that needed doing. We didn’t even head over to the beach until after 4 PM. By that time it was too late to attempt a long hike at the Point since we lose our daylight around 5:20 PM.
With the dwindling daylight in mind, we headed up to Third Street since it is a short walk to the ocean from the parking lot. Our trip east along the beach gave us plenty of hints that winter has come to the beach.
While there are few people over the beach this time of year, usually on nice days there will be a handful of cars in the parking lot at Eastern Regional Access. We only saw one. When we got to the Third Street parking lot, there were no other cars.
As we walked up the ramp to the viewing platform, I could hear the waves crashing. It wasn’t long before I felt the bite of the wind and zipped up my light jacket. I knew that Glenda, my wife, would be back in the car in moments. As I walked down on the beach, I saw the characteristic coarse red sand that we often see after the wind has blown a lot along the beach.
Then I looked down the beach and saw the mist in the air. As the waves were crashing, little bits of foam were being blown towards the shore. Then I got the final sign that winter had arrived at the beach. My hands started to get cold. My hands are like little heaters so when they start feeling the cold, the wind has to be blowing off some chilly waters as it was today.
My eyes scanned the beach, but I didn’t see a single bird or another human being not even a fisherman. Glenda had retreated to the car almost at the moment that I walked down the steps to the beach so I wasn’t really surprised to find myself alone on the shore. The water was pretty stirred up but not stormy by any means. Still even with the blue skies and sunshine, it was clearly winter on the beach.
I didn’t stay very long on the beach, and I enjoyed the sensation of my hands warming as I got back to the car. While I know that days for beach walks will have to be carefully chosen for another month or so, there will be days when the wind isn’t blowing, and the beach will be very pleasant. I will manage to find some of those days.
As we drove west along the beach toward the town of Emerald Isle, our windshield got a covering of the mist that often blows in from the shore during the winter. It is usually so light that it is hardly noticeable until it builds up for a few days, and then you wonder how your windshield got so messy. While it seemed that few businesses were open in town besides Jordan’s Seafood, there were some signs of life at Food Lion and Emerald Plantation. However, I suspect most summer beach visitors would not recognize the Food Lion parking lot in January. I was sad to see our only local bookstore has closed, but that is just reality in the days of Kindles.
As we crossed the bridge, I was reminded that winter is that time of year when being over on the mainland has some real advantages. With the shelter of the pine forests and the luck of having a large south facing area along one side of our house, it is rare during winter when it isn’t pleasant by our home along Raymond’s Gut. On a warm afternoon, it can be ten to twenty degrees warmer in my tomato beds than it is over on the shore.
It will be June or July before the coolness of the ocean breezes will be a benefit once again. Until then I will wander the woods along the marshes near our home and watch for those sunny windless days when the winter beach is an inviting place.