Fading Light of Fall

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Sunset in Raymond's Gut

Even with the lingering warmth, we cannot ignore the change of the seasons on the horizon any longer. Summer finished nicely and some of its warmth has stayed with us well into November. However, with standard time and shorter days, it feels like fall is finally slipping away from us. We all know what comes next.

Sunsets like the one pictured are not as rare as one might imagine but they also signal the passage into the season that passes for winter here on the Crystal Coast. When I see a series of these beautiful sunsets, I know some cold weather is not far from us.

I say cold weather with a slight smile on my face. We are still getting a few tomatoes from our garden and my wife picked enough green beans today for us to enjoy them with Thanksgiving dinner. Our red pepper harvest is still mostly hanging on the plants. It has been a good gardening season.

A cold winter day on the Crystal Coast is one where we do not break forty degrees Fahrenheit. We can usually count on the fingers of one hand the number of those days that we see in December. February is our coldest month and sometimes we even have a day when we barely get above freezing.  Every few years we get a dusting of snow.

Fortunately all of that is in the future and we are still at that time of year when the water that surrounds us in Carteret County moderates the temperatures. With the water temperature still above sixty degrees Fahrenheit, we usually get a break from the early frosts and extended cold spells. However, we are past the middle of November so we know the gardens are living on borrowed time. The grass in our yards has stopped growing and we are seeing a slight burst of fall color that sometimes eludes us completely.

Thanksgiving will roll around this week and while it will be a festive time with the beginning of the flotilla season, the truth is that the Crystal Coast has a history of being a calm spot in the storm that often defines the holidays in more populated areas. While most areas seem to rev up during the holidays, the Crystal Coast throttles down.

There are still some surf fishermen around, but most of our beach-loving visitors have made their way back home. In recent years, our beaches have become something of a refuge from holiday madness for those seeking an escape. We do have the excitement of the Emerald Isle Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 25 at 3PM, but I sometimes think there are almost as many people in the parade as are watching. It is a fun, old-fashioned Christmas parade that everyone enjoys.

November remains a great time to visit the beach. It is not too late to enjoy the sound and smell of the surf. Fish are still biting. You just have to fish a lot slower than you normally would. The beaches are just as beautiful as ever and if you are lucky, you might catch one of our wonderful late-fall sunsets. The restaurants, grocery stores, and beaches are all uncrowded. There are even a few restaurants open for Thanksgiving feasts.

If you need a break from holiday madness, give the Crystal Coast and the beaches of Emerald Isle a try. You will find lots of guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle in our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017-18 print editions were just published on August 15 and  are Prime eligible at Amazon. the Kindle version went live on September 20. If you are in Emerald Isle, you can pick up a black and white copy at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  The Emerald Isle Town Office carries the color version.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below. Our last newsletter went out just before the middle of October.  I am going to try to publish once every three months during this winter.   This is a link to A Balmy Beginning To Fall, our October 2017 edition of the newsletter.

Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Fall Waters

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White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

The colors and the light have changed as we have moved into the fall season. While it is a subtle change, it is still very noticeable especially to photographers.

While we keep hearing that the weather is changing, the slightest taste of fall usually gets overwhelmed by the powerful sun that owns the North Carolina coast during September. The humidity leaves for brief periods then you open your door during midday and it feels like summer all over again.

It is still great beach weather and the water temperature remains close to 80F. Even as September draws to a close, my last hike at the Point on September 8, is still a fresh memory. The pictures that I took remind me of just how beautiful our beaches are here on the Crystal Coast. When you walk over on the Point, you enter a different world. While beach driving started September 15, I got my most recent hike in before the trucks started hitting the beach.  That meant that I had the far reaches of the beach almost to myself.

The hike which is shown on this map was a little over two miles. In the fall I try hike down to what is called Bird Island but I ran out of time, daylight, and energy on September 8. I am hoping to get back to the Point the first week in October. The highs are supposed to be in the low eighties or upper seventies. That will be perfect weather for hiking the beaches.

The weather folks keep promising us a front that is going to drop down and sweep out all the humidity. It seems to never quite make it to the Crystal Coast and now we have to keep our eye on Tropical Storm Mathew which has the possibility of swinging up the east coast and bringing more tropical air over us.

We have learned from past experiences to keep our eyes on the water. The last year or so, many areas, some not even on the coast (see Cedar Rapids, Iowa) are getting caught in torrential non-tropical storms that move slowly across the country. Last year areas of South Carolina were swamped. We were luckily only on the edge of that storm. Even with our area not in the bullseye, the storm gave us high waters and put an end to good weather for a while. Recently, Bertie County, which is north of the Crystal Coast, got nearly twenty inches of rain over three days. It caused severe flooding. Now as I write this Washington, DC is under a flood watch and might get eight inches of rain in two to three days.

The good news is that even in years like last year we usually do get a great stretch of weather.  In the fall as the tropics settle down, we get to really enjoy the area. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time on the Southern Outer Banks. The fish are biting, the crowds have dispersed, and the humidity is a lot lower. On top of that the water is still warm.

I managed to get out in my kayak last weekend. That is where I took the picture at the beginning of the post. It was great to be on the water. The previous time that I went out, I felt like the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. I was out very early in the morning but as the heat of the day caught up with me, there was no relief since the water was still in the upper eighties. Fortunately those water temperatures are gone and a kayak ride is back to being a very pleasant experience.

If you have the flexibility to visit this time of year, just watch the weather and pick your time carefully to really enjoy the treats of the Crystal Coast. As you can see from the beach pictures, there is plenty of room for visitors.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out before Halloween.

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A Beach Of Your Own

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Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

We all have times when something clicks and a special moment is created. Sometimes it plants a seed in us that changes the way we think about the world.

I have been blessed to wash my feet in a lot of salt water around the world. While I cannot go back to the exact moment when the sand got stuck permanently between my toes, I suspect it was a moment much like what is shown in this picture of my granddaughter walking on a beach in Emerald Isle.

When poppa lives at the beach and has a home next door to a swimming pool, you get plenty of beach and water time. Even so rarely does a seven year old get that perfect moment on a beach like our granddaughter did the other day.

She has never visited a truly crowded beach, but I also doubt that she has ever experienced an empty one on a perfect warm August evening. However, I will wager that particular August evening on the beach might be etched in her memory. There is something about an empty beach that stretches to the horizon that captures the imagination of even the youngest of us.

What better place to run with abandon and splash through the waves until your heart is content? Our world has far too few places where you can run and play without a care.

I feel fortunate to live in a little piece of paradise where circumstances have prevented the area from getting overdeveloped. Somehow I doubt that you could get that same sense of freedom and closeness to the ocean along a crowded boardwalk with highrise condos as a backdrop. It might be exciting but it would not be the same.

Not everyone loves an open and empty beach, but walking on one always leaves me a little better prepared for tomorrow and gives me hope that just maybe we will not destroy all the special places before the next generation can share them with their children.

Maybe because I grew up on the uncrowded beaches of North Carolina, I am stuck with needing that empty beach to the horizon to be happy. Maybe that is the reason that I have no need of shopping complexes just off the beach, I would much rather have some nice sandbars and a slough full of fish.

If you have never taken your children on a walk down a quiet beach in the dark, make certain you plan for that to happen before they grow up. I still have wonderful memories of walking those dark beaches along Nags Head. I would imagine people behind the soft house lights and even let my mind wander to what might be shadowing us out just beyond the waves. There is definitely magic on a beach at night. The soft summer evening breezes and warm saltwater on your feet create memories that stay with you all your life.

Some of us are so changed that we are drawn to keep coming back over and over to those empty beaches. I think I might have felt shortchanged with life if I had not learned to love real beaches and keep some sand between my toes.  Come visit the Emerald Isle area, it is not hard to fall in love with our beaches.

Our most recent newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We do a revised version each year and provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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The Riddle of Coastal Weather

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Bogue Inlet

Bogue Inlet

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.