Every October, my family and I take a vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This year, in the days leading up to our trip, we were glued to the North Carolina Department of Transportation's website. We were eagerly anticipating the announcement that Highway 12 (the only road in many parts of the Outer Banks) would be opened up for cars again after Hurricane Irene carved an inlet through large portions of this roadway in August. Luckily, the road was opened just in time for our trip, but many others weren't as lucky. Travel to southern portions of the Outer Banks had to be completed by ferry for more than month while a temporary bridge was constructed over a new inlet south of the Oregon Inlet bridge.
First on my trip I drove through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head heading southbound. So far, so good. Nothing seemed to be too out of place and there were no visible signs of damage, at least along Highway 158 which I was traveling. Now past Nags Head, I made the turn to get on Highway 12 moving south toward the Oregon Inlet and the massive bridge that takes you across it. Again, no significant signs of damage. Once I crossed the Oregon Inlet bridge, that's when it became obvious that a big storm had hit this area. The landscape in many spots along the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge had been completely changed. Large protective dunes which typically keep the Atlantic Ocean from spilling over Highway 12 had been worn down all the way to sea level in some places - leaving absolutely no barrier for any future storms.
Then I reached the point in my journey where I approached the temporary bridge that connected an island that had been split in two - with a new inlet flowing where roadway had been before Irene struck. Approaching the tiny communities of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo even more damage was evident. Highway 12 was featuring many new patches of pavement, where waves had washed the road away leading into Rodanthe. Some homes that were once on land now found water flowing beneath them. Rubble littered the sides of the street with old television sets, mattresses, baby cribs, and huge piles of torn up concrete and asphalt as far as the eye could see. Sand was everywhere. Some folks lost everything they owned and many lost nearly everything. I eventually pulled into our vacation destination of Avon, not too far from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. There was still some damage, but it didn't seem quite as severe as what I saw 25-30 miles to the north.
All of this from a hurricane that was a category 1 storm at the time of impact. That's why we always stress as meteorologists not to focus on what category a system is. It's equally as important to look at the overall size of the system (and Irene was a large storm) and the topography that will be affected by its wind and waves.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot on the Outer Banks? If you've been going there for years, how have you seen it change from year to year? Leave your comments at the bottom of this blog!
Until next time,