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How Clear is the Water on the Outer Banks?

Wondering what the water clarity is like on the Outer Banks? Well, there's no straightforward answer besides: "it changes all the time."

One of the most majestic parts about the Outer Banks (in my opinion) is the volatility of the weather and natural elements. Our strand of barrier islands is not only over 200 miles long (making it possible to have totally different weather conditions in two places) but they're the eastern most stretch of continental U.S. in the Atlantic Ocean. This makes us extremely susceptible to both excellent weather/ocean conditions, and severe weather and harsh conditions.

Don't be deterred. For the majority of late spring, summer, and early fall, the Atlantic Ocean portions off the Outer Banks are very tame and very clear. Wind speed and direction have a great impact on water conditions and clarity, so gentle breezes under 10mph coming from the right directions are favorable. Going a few days without any major storms and swells also leads to a clearer ocean water.

A quick cheat sheet on Outer Banks wind: N = colder air, NE = colder air + choppy warm water, E = warm water, SE = warm air + warm water, S = warm air, SW = warm air + sandy water, W = sandy water, and NW = cooler air + sandy-ish water.

Now that our wind lesson is over, take a gander at some of these pictures from the last few weeks. All of these were just regular days and the water stays that way unless there's a significant weather event to "reset it" per se. It's easy to see the multiple faces the Atlantic Ocean can have.... when the wind picks up and the clouds come out, the ocean looks a certain way. When the sky opens up and light breezes are at play, you get a very pretty day!

OBX Ocean Water Colors

(hot day, relatively no wind, nice glassy water)

Clear Ocean Water Outer Banks

(same story)

Water Clarity OBX

(east wind pushing warmer water from Gulf Stream in closer to the banks...)

Water Color of Ocean Outer Banks

(west winds can also help support wave faces, but not much on this day)

Red Flags No Swimming OBX

(northeast wind, no swimming, warm water but threat of rip currents)

Jennette's Pier Outer Banks Nice Beach Day

(classic OBX beach day at Jennette's Pier, plenty of sandbars, clear water, and playful waves)

Outer Banks Clear Ocean

(this... well, this is a few days a year sort of clear and calm...)

Hopefully this helps to explain the ocean water conditions and clarity on the Outer Banks. They do change all the time, but are very pleasant for the majority of the year. We typically have several week-long stretches of perfect conditions with a few scattered choppy days now and again. The water clarity does have a great deal of dependence on sunshine, but that's not normally an issue! If you do visit the Outer Banks and the water isn't quite perfect on one day, there is no need to worry as there are tons of other activities both indoors and outdoors.

If all this ocean talk has you ready to go, start browsing our fine selection of vacation rental homes on the Outer Banks on our search page here. You can browse over 600 rentals in all shapes and sizes. Prefer some guidance? Give us a call at the number at the very top right of your screen. We're available 24/7 to help you find the perfect rental house for your getaway. All of us at Village Realty look forward to your vacation!

-Robert Kissell