January 23, 2011

The land of summer sun and fun becomes a winter wonderland…WITH SLIDE SHOW


An unexpected snowstorm blanketed the Outer Banks with snow on Saturday, Jan. 22.  Only the eastern edge of North Carolina got the white stuff, starting at the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet and stretching south towards Morehead City, N.C. 

Saturday’s weather forecast for Hatteras called for about an inch of snow in the grassy areas that was to begin in the afternoon.  But, by 10 a.m., it was snowing seriously and in spite of temperatures that were just above freezing, it was sticking to more than just grass.  Around midday, the North Carolina Department of Transportation trucks were treating Highway12.

Those of us who came from up north noted that the skies were a solid single shade of gray, what we refer to as a “snow sky.”  The temperature dropped slightly in the early afternoon, and the flakes grew larger.  Many scheduled activities were cancelled because of the snow, a rare occurrence on Hatteras.

Inch by inch, the heavy snow accumulated and was barely affected by the 30 mph winds.  It looked like a blizzard outside and showed no signs of letting up.  A quick check on the local radar proved that the forecasters got this one wrong.  The snow line was clinging to the Outer Banks and looked like it would continue deep into the evening.  And it did.

The ferries stopped running around noon because of  the snowy fog.  Most businesses closed early so all workers could get home while they still could.  Locals who still had their outside Christmas lights up turned them on, and island looked like a winter wonderland.

Those who ventured out after dark faced very limited visibility as the snow continued to dump on the island, accelerated by strong winds.  Even though Highway 12 showed signs of being plowed, it was time for four-wheel-drive.  The smart ones stayed huddled at home for the evening and took pleasure in just looking out the window at the freak blizzard raging outside.

About 11 p.m., the snow stopped.  Going to bed reminded me of Christmas Eve because I couldn’t wait for morning to see what the island looked like covered with this much snow. 

I awakened around 5 a.m. and looked outside.  The winds had lightened significantly and stars twinkled in the predawn hours.  This was perfect!

My husband, Donny, and I left the house at 6:30 so he could take pictures of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the pristine snow.  Bundled in layers of clothes and lacking a good pair of snow boots, we began our day.

Only Highway 12 had been plowed since the snow stopped.  However, the road was dangerously slick with a sheet of plowed frozen slush.  The drive to the lighthouse took much longer than usual because 20 mph was as fast as we were willing to go. 

The eastern horizon was painted in shades of purple, orange, and pink as our truck made the final turn into the lighthouse parking lot.  The three-quarter moon still hung brightly over the black-and-white sentinel whose light was still turning round and round.  The air was clean, crisp, and cold.  The winds had quieted and the sound of silence was deafening.

Cameras and tripod were drawn from the truck so this moment of beauty could be captured and shared.  I sucked in every aspect of the morning as the camera shutter began clicking furiously.

The lighthouse beacon went dark, and the moon began to fade when the rising sun began its job of pumping light, heat, and energy into the day. 

At the base of the lighthouse was a snowman!  It wasn’t big or symmetrical or particularly well dressed, but this was a real snowman on Hatteras.  In my pocket was a Santa’s hat which I had just in case.  Voila!  He became a handsome snowman as the morning’s rays showered him with light.

Having thoroughly explored and photographed the lighthouse area, we drove out to the beach where the sand dunes were barren on one side but thigh deep snow on the other.

Driving on the beach in snow proved to be difficult.  The wind had blown the snow into the tracks making it deeper than usual.  The truck was working too hard, and we canned any thoughts of driving to Cape Point.   The conditions were wrong.  Jarvis Williams, who owns an island towing service, told us later that he towed a few trucks off the beach in the storm.

We returned to Buxton, where the island was springing to life.  New sounds filled the air -- tires spinning, snow crunching underfoot, and the scraping noises of snow being moved.

Hatteras may not be equipped for this much snow, but the islanders were quick to adapt.  In the absence of snow shovels, brooms, rakes, cardboard, spades, and boards were employed to clear the snow.  Ace Hardware in Avon was open for business and selling 50-pound bags of salt for $9.99.  But, they only had two shovels that were suitable for snow removal.

Piles of plowed snow lined the edges of public areas as the island dug out.  Small tractors and front end loaders cleaned the parking lots at churches, grocery stores, and gas stations. 

We made a perfunctory stop at Frisco Pier to see how it fared during the storm, and it seemed unchanged by this latest weather event.

By mid-morning, the ferries had the ice cleared from their boat decks and resumed service to Ocracoke.

The closer to Hatteras we got, the less snow we saw.  In our travels, it seemed that north Frisco and Buxton got 2 to3 more inches of snow.  In the flat protected areas, we measured 8 inches near the lighthouse.

The Hatterasman Drive-In was open for breakfast and trucks filled the parking lot.  The folks there were busier than they had expected.

“Snow makes everybody so excited,” said Marcella Miller as she took our order for breakfast.

This excitement was certainly mounting as we returned north.  Two boys dressed in red coats pummeled each other with snowballs, which were easy to form with this wet snow.  Workers at Hatteras Realty rolled snow into the beginnings of a snowman.  Kitesurfers attached snowboards to their feet and used the remaining wind to speed across the land. 

A woman was cross-country skiing along Highway 12 in Frisco.  Young children and men alike could not resist the temptation of throwing themselves backwards into the snow and making a snow angel.  Clad in neoprene from head to toe, the surfers were out trying to catch a wave in front of the snowy beach.

The road back to Buxton was wet and slushy as temperatures climbed quickly.  Trees shed the weight of the white stuff, which fell like snowballs.  In a jerking motion, the bent trees began to straighten.

Snowmen were popping up everywhere, as friends, co-workers, and families had fun making something out of the sticky snow.  Considering the lack of experience in this snowy art, the people of Hatteras pulled out all stops to make great-looking men of snow. 

Lemons, tennis balls, plastic cups, pine cones, and bobbers were all creative alternatives for the traditional eyes of coal.  Lips were made from bent cherry licorice sticks and hazelnuts dotted into smiles.   Pine branches were used to make Mohawk haircuts, hula skirts, and arms.  Each and every one of them was a masterpiece.

The snow storm was a happy event for the islanders, and, by all accounts, it created little, if any, inconvenience for anyone.  Of course, this was because it was Sunday.

Gosh, I love snow!

Click here for slide show by Island Free Press photographer Don Bowers

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