January 10, 2018

Islands Thaw and Return to Normal After Record Winter Storm


Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands still had patches of ice and snow roughly a week after a winter storm slammed the Eastern Seaboard, bringing record cold temperatures and a deep freeze.

Parts of the Pamlico Sound were still frozen as of Wednesday morning, although the recent “heat wave” of mid-40s temperatures thawed large portions of the islands’ waters.

The thaw is forecasted to continue for at least the next few days, with temperatures reaching the 50s on Wednesday, and climbing up to the 60s by Thursday.

All Dare and Hyde County offices and services were open on Wednesday, and Dare County Schools resumed on Tuesday after roughly a week of closures immediately following the winter break.

The storm was a brutal one, which affected the East Coast from Florida to Maine.

During the past seven days of January, more than 2,205 minimum temperature records were broken across the country, which included one on Hatteras Island where a record low temp of 19 degrees was tied on Sunday, January 7.

Per the National Weather Service’s summary of the event, the storm and the ensuing freezing technically began on December 26, 2017, when a prolonged period of Arctic air initially moved into eastern North Carolina, and a persistent long-wave trough kept cold air locked in across most of the eastern United States. 

During the early morning hours of January 3, 2018, surface low pressure that developed off the east coast of Florida began to rapidly strengthen and move along the Gulf Stream off the Carolina coast during the late evening hours of January 3 and the morning hours of January 4.

With the very cold air in place, and with rapid intensification of the low, precipitation developed quickly during the late afternoon hours of January 3. With some warm air aloft, the initial precipitation was in the form of sleet and freezing rain inland, and primarily rain along the coast, which was heavy at times with almost an inch of rain in some areas.

As colder air wrapped around the developing low, precipitation became all snow by midnight and fell heavily at times into the early morning hours of January 4. Initial ice accumulation was up to 0.2 of an inch, while snowfall amounts ranged from about 2 inches along the coast, up to nearly 8 inches inland. 

The overall storm produced blizzard conditions up and down the East Coast from north Florida, where light snow, ice and sleet occurred, to Maine, where more than 2 feet of snow occurred.

The storm was also accompanied by very strong winds. As the low was rapidly strengthening off the North Carolina coast in the early morning hours of January 4, gusts of 78 mph were reported at the offshore Diamond Shoals buoy. These strong winds produced blowing and drifting of snow, and a period of blizzard conditions along the Outer Banks.

There was still light ice on the roads as of Wednesday, particularly on side streets and in the northern Outer Banks area. Soundside flooding associated with the storm also caused minor damage to N.C. Highway 12, particularly in between Avon and Buxton where chunks of the shoulder had been unceremoniously removed by the rising waters.

Locally, the deep freeze of the Pamlico Sound, local harbors, and creeks and ponds was the big story, as numerous photos surfaced of folks walking on water throughout the islands. The freeze caused many residents’ water pipes to freeze as well over the weekend, but Monday and Tuesday’s thaw brought relief to hundreds of homeowners who had been without running water since as early as Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore urged all visitors and locals to be cautious around frozen bodies of water. Warmer temperatures in the area have started to thin ice that may have been safe enough to walk on over the last few days.

Considering that the Pamlico Sound remained frozen for roughly .75 miles offshore, islanders can expect to continue to see patches of ice even as temperatures continue to climb. It was an unusual event to be sure, especially considering that saltwater freezes at a lower temperature. (While fresh water freezes at 32F (0C), seawater freezes at 28 F.)

For more information on the historic storm, as well as the upcoming warmer weather, visit www.weather.gov/mhx for forecast information, or the National Weather Service office in Newport / Morehead City’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/NWSMoreheadCity/.

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