Finally thawing out

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Snow on the beach, Emerald Isle, NC

Snow on the beach, Emerald Isle, NC

On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, winter weather came for an unusual visit to the North Carolina coast.  Our home is located on Raymond’s Gut not far from the beaches of Emerald Isle where the above snowy beach picture was taken.

We have seen snow before both in January 2011 and in January 2009.  Both of those storms swooped in for a visit and disappeared so quickly that we hardly noticed them. I can remember snow from one of them being gone before I walked out the driveway to get the mail.

This was all before the year of the polar vortex. This wandering cold air pump has put the east coast of the United State and Canada into a serious deep freeze.  The light freezing rain and much heavier sleet from this most recent storm started on Tuesday before lunch.  It did not stop until very early Wednesday morning.

It would not have been bad if the precipitation had changed to snow, but it did not and it was mostly sleet in our area throughout the storm.  We ended up with three to four inches of sleet on the ground.  The view from our upper deck was clearly a frozen landscape dominated by ice.

The storm helped us join that large part of the eastern United States covered with snow and ice as of January 31, 2014.  As the snow and sleet was stopping, we were falling into a serious deep freeze.  We were below freezing from before 8AM on Tuesday until about 11AM on Thursday, a total of fifty-one hours below freezing.

While that might not seem like a lot to northern friends, I still remember our first winter here in 2006-2007 when we only had seventeen hours below freezing the whole winter.  This dose of very cold weather was unlike anything that we have experienced in our nearly eight years living on the Crystal Coast.

Most of us move here because snow rarely visits the area and because the average low temperature even in January is above freezing.   We are also addicted to the area’s beautiful blue skies.  If you look at this graph of average temperatures, you will notice our average high in January is over fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  This latest spell of cold weather gave us two days when our high temperature did not even reach our average low temperature.

Certainly it was unusual weather and even fooled the weathermen who were convinced that we would make it into the upper forties on Thursday.  We barely stayed above freezing on Thursday.  Fortunately for those of us living here, our very warm ground started melting the snow from underneath.  We kept hoping for the blue skies on Thursday but they did not show up.

By early morning on Friday, January 31, our driveway was barely frozen slush. Three hours later just before noon, a couple of trips in and out of the driveway helped start some serious melting.  By the time we came home from a nice burger lunch at Highway 55 Burgers and Shakes and grocery shopping in Emerald Plantation on the island, our driveway had been cleaned by the sun and our spectacular blue skies were back.

We are not completely back to normal, but if you look closely at the snowy beach picture by clicking on it so it will expand, you will see a surfer headed for the waves.  That is a very good sign for us beach lovers. With high temperatures well into the sixties on both Saturday and Sunday, we will quickly get completely thawed out.  Our hope is that the local trout are not shocked by all the cold water draining into the rivers and that our warmth loving plants and birds do not suffer much from this unusual cold snap.

Most of us will be rooting for this to be the last that we see of serious winter weather in 2014.  My kayak is calling me, but I need some warmer water than what we have now before I start paddling.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

It is also getting close to when we will be sending out our first newsletter of the season.  Get signed up now so you will not miss any of the posts about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

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A frozen coastal gut

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Icy Raymond's Gut, January 25, 2014

Icy Raymond’s Gut, January 25, 2014

I first heard the term  “gut” to describe a body of water on a trip to Newfoundland in 1972.  Gut when used in that context means a narrow passage or a strait.  When we moved to the North Carolina coast in 2007, I was happy to find out that our home was on Raymond’s Gut which is a narrow passage out to the White Oak River.

Since learning gut was part of the name of the water behind our home, I have not been shy in using it to the describe that beautiful body of water that I get to enjoy almost every day.  If you do a Google search on Raymond’s Gut, most of what you find will be articles that I have written.

I have observed the marshes around Raymond’s Gut in just about every kind of weather that you can imagine from Hurricane Irene to snowstorms.   In the seven years that we have lived here along the gut, we have seen just about as many snowstorms as hurricanes.

Life here revolves around the water and the weather. We cannot ignore either of them because they are such a big part of our lives.  My articles talk about everything from high water in the gut to how hot it can be here when summer has its grip on the area.  The wind can be doing anything from blowing a gale to absolutely calm.  The water temperature in the gut runs from the upper thirties in a very cold winter to the upper eighties and sometimes even gets to nearly ninety degrees Fahrenheit in an extremely hot August.

Raymond’s Gut rarely freezes over or stays exceptionally hot for very long, but we did have a spell back in 2011 when I felt compelled the help the herons and egrets by using my boat to break ice in the gut.  The winter of 2014 has already brought ice to the gut a couple of days, but fortunately it has not lasted long enough to be a problem yet.

That does not mean that we have enjoyed our normal warm winter when we rarely get below fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  The only reason we had only one day of ice the third week this January was that the wind was blowing so hard that the water in the gut had a hard time completely freezing.  The marsh ground and just about everything else was frozen solid.  Fortunately we have a weekend warmup before we descend once again into the east coast’s 2014 deep freeze again next week.

While this has been a very cold winter with kayaking only in my dreams and fond memories, it is hard to say what the ramifications will be for our fish and wildlife. We will be back out on the water regularly sooner than one might expect, but it will be a long time if ever before we know the impact on our local fish.

I found a dead Carolina anole, one of our normally green-in-the-summer lizards, on our doorstep recently.  That is a sign of an unusually cold winter in a place which only endured seventeen hours of below freezing weather in the whole winter of 2006-2007.  We usually enjoy a feast of January lettuce.  This year we had to cut it early.  Maybe this extreme cold will kill off some fire ants, but I am a lot more worried about the local trout than I am about the ants.

The saving grace for our area is that we can count on our weather to have more pronounced swings than it does inland.  While areas inland from us can be much colder or hotter than we are for longer periods of time,  we rarely get stuck in a weather pattern.  However, sometimes the cold inland weather from the Canadian shield does manage to find us for a brief time.  We can just hope it does not become a resident like it does in Chicago and Boston.

While our coastal weather is a riddle that none of us have figured out, we do enjoy lots of pleasant weather. The great weather, beaches, blue skies and the wonderful access to water are the reasons most of us are drawn to the area.  To those of us who are impatient to be on the water, it might seem like we are always waiting for the waters around us to either cool down or warm up, but the reality is that most of us spend a lot of time out on the water.  That is especially amazing considering the wind complicates the situation more than we like and sometimes keeps us at the dock when we feel almost desperate to be out on the water.  If you think this coastal paradise has us a little spoiled, you are probably right.

I might grumble about the ice-covered gut in the picture in this post, but the reality is that the gut will be completely open by the next morning.  That is just the way our coastal weather works.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

It is also getting close to when we will be sending out our first newsletter of the season.  Get signed up now so you will not miss any of the posts about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

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A January Thaw Visits The Coast

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Winter sunset over the ice in Raymond's Gut

Winter sunset over the ice in Raymond’s Gut

According to the weather folks this cold weather as 2014 begins is the worst that we have seen in a few decades.  The icy sunset picture of Raymond’s Gut tends to lend some credence to their reports.

While part of me might suspect that the dire reporting is just the ruminations of weather forecasters sitting comfortably in warm studios, I did see a Tweet from Kathryn, a weather friend, working at the Weather Channel. Her studio in Atlanta was so cold that she was wearing gloves at her keyboard.  Maybe there is something to this polar vortex.

The first week of January, 2014, has been the coldest weather that we have experienced since we moved to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. The normally watery gut behind our home was frozen over January 8. We had a few very frustrated great egrets and great blue herons looking for some open water. My winter English peas which were in full bloom earlier in the week did not look very happy after the over twenty-four hours of below freezing temperatures.

Of course the peas were just an experiment to see if I could get away with growing something in January which probably should not grow in January even on the North Carolina coast.  We did have a winter back in 2007 when we only had seventeen hours of below freezing temperatures the whole winter.

However as an ex-Canadian, it is really hard to get very excited over cold weather which at one time in my life I would have considered a balmy reprieve from the almost unrelenting winter cold of Maritime Canada.

This much-hyped  cold weather reminded me most of what we used to call a “January thaw.” When we lived in Canada, just north of Fredericton, New Brunswick, we would get excited when the daytime temperatures would rise to the mid teens.  For those of us who were veterans of the cold weather, we could actually take our mittens off and work with our bare hands.  Here along the coast of North Carolina a brief visit to the mid teens has resulted in school delays of two hours.

New Brunswick is a place where snow and cold can be dangerous, but people do respect it there.  You know you are headed for serious cold when today’s low temperature is tomorrow high temperature and the same thing happens each day for a week until it seems like your whole world is frozen solid. Sometimes in central New Brunswick it gets cold enough that it almost hurts to take a breath.

While it is hard to believe, we saw the temperature dip to minus forty during our time in Canada.   Amazingly the winds and snow during that particular cold snap were also driven by a Nor’easter. Unfortunately I had to ride a tractor around in that weather to feed our cattle, and the tractor did not have a cab.  Still I survived to tell the tale.

North Carolina’s coast is almost the opposite. Now that our Canadian January thaw has headed back to Canada, our high temperature today will be tomorrow’s low temperature. We will follow that pattern until our high temperature will approach seventy degrees Fahrenheit this weekend.

If it gets that warm, I will likely switch back to shorts.  That is my normal uniform here for something over nine months of each year.

When I look back on the last seven years of living here along the Southern Outer Banks, I have worn my long underwear three or four times. I did put my hiking boots on for this last cold spell but only for an hour long hike through the marshes. I still wore my crocs out our driveway even in the coldest weather to retrieve our morning newspaper.

It is really hard to complain about winter temperatures that never fall below the double digits. That is especially true when our temperature rarely fails to make it to fifty degrees Fahrenheit even in a cold month like this January.

We did have a dose of cold weather the likes of which has not visited the area in a number of years.  It is no reason for panic. We will probably not see another one like it for a while and that would be just fine with me.

Sometimes it does not hurt to have a taste of something which makes you appreciate what you all too often take for granted. This recent cold weather is going to help me really enjoy the warm weather that we should see this second weekend of January.  The next time I get my boat out on the river, I will remember the very cold water that was in the river when I ventured out last weekend.

If we can get through this cold spell without any trout being stunned and with lots of open water in the next few days, the cold spell will be just a good reminder of how lucky we are to live in place where winter is not eleven months of snow and one month of damn poor sledding. Actually winter in Tay Creek, New Brunswick was only seven or eight months, but you probably get the snowy picture.

I can look forward to putting my tomato plants in the ground by the middle of March. My tiny seedlings are already growing inside.  That and the prospect of some water that is begging to be waded are all I need to make me forget this recent cold spell.

My next Kindle book, The Crystal Coast, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, should be out before the end of January.  It will be an inexpensive ($2.99) way to have a look at our beautiful area.

By early February I will be sending out our first Crystal Coast Newsletter.  If you would enjoy reading a brief email about what is happening in our area, please sign up below.  Your information will only be used for this monthly newsletter and will never be shared with anyone or used for any other purpose.

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