Snow on The Outer Banks, NC
Many people wonder what winters are like in the southern states. While North Carolina enjoys more seasons of weather than Florida for example, frozen precipitation in the form of accumulating snow and ice aren't a regular occurrence. It is even more rare for the Outer Banks given their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and wind blowing over the warmer (than air temperature) water. Over the past years however, there seems to be a trend for at least one wintry weather event where the Outer Banks receives measurable snow and the effects are much different than that of a metropolitan or suburban area in the north.
Without question, when it snows south of the Mason-Dixon line, people get excited! Unlike states receiving regular annual snowfall, it is a true experiential treat to witness the whimsical beauty of snowflakes skydiving from the clouds and riding the wind in all directions.
One of the things I find most beautiful about snow is it's ability to accentuate subtle nuances of the shapes and lines of the world around us. It's not everyday (or year for that matter) that we get to watch snow line the flaky tops of sea oats, or collect on the inside edges of sand dunes. The evergreen trees on the Outer Banks are normally basking in mild temperatures and look presentable all their own... but add perfectly placed patterns of snow to their bows and the beach we all know simply transforms into a winter wonderland we didn't remember was around us.
Snow, ice, and heavy vehicles driving on top of them do not always mix well. I'm going to be frank, coming from years of driving experience in the northeast, driving on the roads of the Outer Banks when there's a substantial snow accumulation is nothing like typical snow driving. Whenever we post photos of these weather events, dozen of comments flood in about how it's "no big deal" or "looks like a regular winter drive in (insert state here)" I'll stop you right there and let you know it's not! :) The problem is that the Outer Banks and most of suburban areas in the south are nowhere near as prepared for treating wintry roads as northern states. This is due in part because of how sporadically and infrequently this wintry weather occurs here, there's not the same equipment or supply allocations. From my recollection, NCDOT has brined the roads with a liquid mix about 24 hours ahead of our last few winter weather events... but it does not stand up well and we normally rely on the sun and time to do the majority of road clearing/melting for us.
What makes matters worse is all of that (untreated) heavy dense snow gets transformed to hard-packed ice AND there's a really good chance, due to our climate, that there's already some ice below it thanks to freezing rain beforehand. So the next time you think it's no big deal to drive on the Outer Banks after a snow event, watch the television show "Ice Road Truckers" and imagine that's your neighborhood for a week. Our talented photographer, Jonathan, took the photos you see in this blog and Teresa braved the elements for this video below.
Schools & Businesses
Given what you've read above about the beauty and hazards of snow on the Outer Banks, you'll understand it is a mixed bag when it comes to the operation of businesses and schools. When it comes to getting children to school safely, there are absolutely no chances taken. If there is frozen precipitation in the forecast or subzero wind chills you can all but guarantee that schools will be either delayed or canceled. When it comes to businesses, it's more related to transportation safety than temperatures. Most restaurants and tourism-related businesses close if driving is hazardous while some essential emergency facilities remain open with personnel who are able to safely get to work or stay the night (hospitals, etc.).
As you now know, although rare, snow on the Outer Banks is a beautiful thing. When the local residents and government take the steps necessary to stay safe and prepared, it can be a welcome delight for a few days every other year or so!
To see more photos of the Outer Banks, both in the snowy weather and in the magnificent summer, visit our Facebook page. You can also check out our Outer Banks Area Guide to explore more of the beach you love or jump right into a rental search to find your home for your next visit!
Thanks for stopping by, be sure to share with a friend!
- Robert Kissell