I had to resist a title like, Coastal Weather Depends On Where You Are and When You Are There. It is actually not a bad summary of the situation we face on a daily basis. You can drive the 100 or so miles from Winston-Salem to Raleigh and only see the mean July temperature go from 87F to 89F. Drive another 120 miles to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and you will find the mean temperature, and in July it can be mean and hot, will still be stuck on 89F.
Yet you only have to go another nineteen miles to Swansboro to watch the July mean temperature drop four degrees to 85F . Then things start to get really interesting but there is little data that you can put your hands on to show the local coastal weather quirks we know so well.
You cannot live very long in coastal North Carolina before it dawns on you that the water and how much of it is around you has more to do with your daily temperatures than just about anything else. We often escape almost all of the early spring hot spells because our water is still cool. When fall comes we can sometimes wade in the surf into early November. In the spring it can be positively chilly over on Emerald Isle by the ocean but it can be very toasty and warm over on the mainland by some of the marshes that absorb that wonderful North Carolina spring sunshine faster than the Atlantic Ocean.
That is just the start. We have more types of water than Canadians have of snow. Shallow marsh waters with a dark bottom like those around my house warm very quickly but they also cool off very quickly. Deep waters with a sandy bottom stay cool longer. Areas through which the tide draws lots of water see a real mixing action of water and temperatures.
Then you have to factor in the wind. The wind cools the water. The difference in temperature on a part of the river where it is two miles wide and in a sheltered inlet will either start you thawing or bring sweat to your brow depending on the time of year. The areas where the winds cannot blow across the open waters stay warmer most of the year. The change is even more dramatic the closer you get to the ocean.
Just to make things even more interesting, if we get a lot of rain and it is cool rain from thunderstorms, it can quickly change the temperature of the rivers and sometimes even their salinity which matters a lot when it comes to fishing. Then if the rain comes from a tropical air mass, it can feel like we are walking around in rain direct from Florida.
There are some rules to living on the coast in the summer. If you want to enjoy the outside world in July and August, do it early and be home by 8:30 AM before it starts getting warm. If you want to go to the beach and cannot go early, you will find that it is wonderful in the late afternoon and early evening.
We find it also helps if we keep our heat pumps set on eighty degrees. It makes the transition to the outside much easier. When you come inside, you do not feel like you have walked into a meat locker. You know it is really summer here when you can take a comfortable shower without using any hot water. Even the ground warms up pretty quickly and our water pipes are barely buried.
If you cannot hit those times of the day when it is nice outside, you need to be careful because the heat can suck the life out of you. Again that depends on where you are. If you are up the White Oak River where the river is twenty-five feet wide and the water has six foot high marsh grass on both sides, finding a breeze is going to be very difficult.
Those are the times when you head for Bogue Inlet where the water is cooler and there is almost always a breeze. That is a picture of Bogue Inlet at the top of the post. Of course if it is a cold day, it can be mighty cold over at Bogue Inlet. Depending on the direction of the wind, you might want to hide behind Bear Island or Huggins Island. Then there is the difference between being in a skiff and a kayak. If the water is very cold or very warm, you will notice it more in the kayak. However, when we have a hot day in the spring and the river is still sixty degrees, you can be sure that it will feel colder than sixty degrees when you take a trip down the river especially in an open skiff at 30 MPH.
I was out on the river late in the evening on July 17, 2013. The water temperature was in the upper eighties. There was little wind and I could feel the heat radiating from the river. The next morning after a night with clear skies, the river was much cooler and a trip down it was much nicer.
Then there are some mysteries to coastal weather. I often wonder why Ocracoke Island is warmer early in the morning than most other places on the coast in the summer. It is surrounded by water and the water cannot be warmer than our water. I do not know the answer.
The variety in coastal weather is just part of what makes life on the coast interesting. Our hot weather usually does not last more than a few weeks and I will trade that anytime for the moderate weather that we have in the winter.
Whenever I do not like the weather, I either just wait until it changes or drive a few miles to find something different. It is the coastal way.