Vestiges of Winter in the Marsh


It has been over two months since I have written a post on my Crystal Coast Life website. It happens ever now and then that you just need a break from writing even if writing is something that you enjoy very much. If there is a good time for some time off from writing, it is winter and if there is a good place to restore yourself, it is the marshes along the North Carolina coast.  I am back now and refreshed from the break and hopeful that we are seeing the last vestiges of winter.

The winter of 2016-17 has been an easy one so far in the Raymond’s Gut marsh on the edges of the White Oak River. We had one serious cold spell from January 7 to Jan 10. We experienced 15F, the lowest temperature in our ten plus years on the Crystal Coast. Fortunately for those of us along the coast there was no frozen precipitation to go along with the very cold temperatures.

Winter brought our usual cast of characters including our most famous visitor, Frank 29X and a new friend, an otter who has been named Emmet. Frank 29X is a great egret born in Canada who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. He is a true snow bird with his trips south each winter. He has not missed a winter since 2012 and is somewhat famous in birding circles.  Emmet is a young river otter who seems to have developed a fondness for our marsh. There was one stretch when he was around for almost two weeks. I am guessing that Emmet is one of the otters that were born here in the marsh last year. The marsh did get iced over during our one cold spell but that is long gone and the duration of our cold spells is shorter and shorter as we get closer to spring.

As winter slowly releases us to spring, we can still expect some cold nights but often the brilliant North Carolina sun can make you forget about cold temperatures well before 10AM. Winter winds often linger and become spring breezes which given the length of time that it takes for the waters to warm up are only marginally warmer than the cold winter winds.  It does not take much to change the quiet inlet in the post picture to a wind whipped inlet.

Another part of winter that takes a long time to change is the reddish brown of our mostly centipede lawns. This area by our boardwalk is green in the summer but stays brown until April usually. While it is not unusual to see green grass in central North Carolina in early March, it takes much longer for our brown centipede lawns to turn green. If you see green grass at the coast early in the spring, it is likely that someone over-seeded their centipede yard with annual rye grass. We actually hope the centipede grass does not turn green until into April. A late March frost can turn a centipede yard brown and it has to start greening up all over.

The roller coaster weather that we have on the coast also keeps our area waters which were cooled by the winter’s cold temperatures from warming up quickly. Cool water temperatures are the most maddening vestiges of winter. The warm days of spring often tease us but experience has taught us that the beautiful waters of spring are often deadly cold. We might end up being lucky this year with the water temperatures already in the mid-fifties, but I am not counting on it yet.

All it takes is for the northern half of the country to be snow covered and for those cold north winds to sweep across the fields of snow to keep our spring damp and cool. Still we know that spring is drawing nearer by the day. We have already picked up almost an hour of daylight. Our daffodils have responded with beautiful blooms. And in what might be a surprise to many people our wagon train tomatoes are still producing ripe tomatoes. We already have tomato seeds planted and it will not be long before we are planting cold tolerant plants.

It will take a while for those last vestiges of winter, the brown centipede grass, the cold winds, and cold water to disappear but we are on the downward slope to better weather. We will soon be thinking about spring festivals and walks along the beach.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books are especially useful if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The first newsletter of the new year is late but should be out late in the week after Valentine’s today. It will just in time to provide information on the first spring festivals.

Thinking of the Point

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Like most coastal people and everyone on the east coast north of Florida, I am ready for winter to end.  I would much rather be walking on the sands of the Point than sitting inside writing about the nasty weather.  My college friend, Scott, who lives in Chicago seems to be happy with the prospect of February closing out with temperatures in the forties with the chance of maybe fifty Fahrenheit on one day.

I can tell you that is not only an unacceptable end to winter, that is actually what we have been enduring and are trying to escape. While it might be unbecoming to complain about temperatures in the forties when our Canadian friends have just endured yet another snowstorm, it is certainly not the winter weather that we have become accustomed to in our several winters here on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

This winter I have not even dared to dream of any magic days on the beach much less letting my mind wander to summer days on the water.

We have had a winter on the marsh unlike any that we have faced. In most of the winters that we have been here, we have been able to enjoy lettuce and some other cold weather crops during January. That has been impossible even as we slide into February this year. While we have a good week on tap the week after Valentine’s Day, one of the European forecast models has us dropping back to well below freezing on February 26 so this is going to a rocky road to spring.

I know that we are officially still in winter and I have written that spring weather can be highly variable here along the coast. The problem is that we have grown used to having long breaks between these spells of winter weather and there have really been no breaks here on the coast this year.  I thought as we were thawing out at the end of January there might be some hope.  Unfortunately we got a mix of sleet and ice coating everything including our palms in the days just before our Valentine’s Day thaw.  We were lucky that was all we got since places in South Carolina had far more serious ice, the North Carolina Piedmont had its biggest snowstorm in decades, and our friends in the Virginia Mountains got a historic snowstorm.

A quick burst of warm air late in the evening on Valentine’s Day took us into the fifties and quickly melted all the ice.  Once again I thought we might be headed into warmth, but it was short-lived.  If you look at our average temperatures for February, we should be seeing an average high during this time of year near 59F with our lows around 38F.  We are nowhere close to that in 2014.  There were only two days above 60F in early February and in the next eleven days after that only two days did the temperatures above 50F. That is at the very cold end of  winter weather for us and unlike our normal middle of February weather.  Next week’s sixties and potential seventy degree day will really be some welcome relief.

What normally happens in much of North Carolina is that by the middle of February, the sun starts to seriously warm the ground and people start planting early crops. The water around us takes longer to warm but this year widespread snow cover extending just about everywhere north and west of us is slowing the middle February warmth we have come to count on over the years. We usually warm slowly here along the coast once we get to March but we are having trouble getting into our comfort zone.  Normally once we get pass the cold of January and a brush with cold in February the weather can be very nice if we just give it time.  This year February has been a very cold month for us.

I guess the real problem is that we expect February to have cold weather but to give us enough warmth that we can easily make it to March when we really start to feel better about our prospects for leaving cold behind for another year. February on the North Carolina coast is not normally the cruelest month of the year like it is in much of Canada.

All you have to do is read this post called Spring is here that I wrote on February 28, 2011, to understand what I mean. Or you can look at this post written in early March 2012 which starts out with the statement, “It is hard to say anything but “What winter?” when someone asks about our winter this year.” Even worse is the post called January Warmth to Remember that I wrote in January 2013.

Right now there is no way that I could write an article that even hints that we might have enjoyed some warm weather this winter. We have seen a few warm days, but the streaks of warm weather that keep us coastal folks smiling have been almost non-existent. To compound matters our lovely blue skies have been hiding and sometimes smiling at us above icy waters.

We live close to the elements here so the weather is more than an idle interest to those us of who spend time on the water and lots of time outside. We have been lucky to have missed most of the really serious winter weather, but that is why we live here. Now it is time hopefully for the true warmth of early spring weather to start pushing cold weather to the north and bring us back our wonderful blue skies.  Unless that happens, I suspect my office will soon be overwhelmed by tomato plants that should have moved to the garage long ago. I will remain hopeful because this is North Carolina and eventually the heat will win and we will wish that we could have bottled some of this cold air.

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.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  If you sign up soon, I will be able to send out copies of the first newsletter to new subscribers before we send  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

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