March 13, 2018
Kinnakeet Home: Nor’easter Winds
came in like a lion on Hatteras Island in the form of a nor’easter that
hit on us the front side with soundside flooding that wasn’t too bad,
but on the back side with ocean overwash that was wickedly cruel to our
I made a trip off island the day after Highway 12 opened back up.
We had all been viewing spectacular drone footage on Facebook and so
wondered if this was it – the one that would get us down and not let us
back up. My husband and I made a trip off island the day after
Highway 12 reopened. There was some water and sand, but the
NCDOT’s tireless efforts to clear the roads had worked. After
viewing the footage from the air, this seemed something of a
made me think of winter storms and hurricanes and how these events
shape and change our lives. I decided to write about a past
nor’easter, in particular, the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962.
During the summer of 1999, I interviewed some locals about their
experience living in Avon during that storm.
Gibb Gray remembered looking at his barometer the wintry evening that
the storm began affecting the island. The night was still, but
his barometer reading was very low. The wind began that night
which kicked off the infamous Ash Wednesday storm. The next day
Gray was at his family store in Avon. Charles Williams, Sr. came
in and said that an inlet had cut through between Avon and
Buxton. So Gray, along with his brothers Harry and Williams, got
in an old shad boat and went down the shoreside to see what had
Gray said, “It was a weird looking sight as we met the green ocean
water halfway between Avon and the inlet. A lot of debris had
washed through the inlet, and we saw ocean waves actually breaking in
the sound.” Gray said the beach was littered with live conchs
that had been scoured form the ocean bottom by the powerful surf.
The Ash Wednesday storm that occurred March 7-9, 1962, was one of the
most severe in North Carolina history, according to “North Carolina
Hurricane History” by Jay Barnes. It affected more than 500 miles
of Mid-Atlantic coast. The storm lasted 60 hours along the N.C.
Nor’easters are extra tropical cyclones with many of the same
characteristics of hurricanes. Strong counterclockwise winds
rotate around an area of low pressure spreading over thousands of
square miles. They lack a central warm air mass and a
well-defined eye, and occur during the winter months.
This was not the first or last time an inlet had been cut north of
Buxton. There was an inlet there on John White’s 1580’s map,
according to the Outer Banks History Center. Many inlet zones on
Hatteras Island have opened and closed over the years.
The inlet that was cut by this storm was three miles north of
Buxton. It was, according to Virginian Pilot newspaper reports of
that time, 600 feet wide and 12 feet deep.
A difference of opinion developed between the fishermen and business
owners of Avon and Buxton. The commercial fishermen wanted to see
the inlet remain and a permanent bridge built. Business owners
wanted the inlet closed, and the road reestablished because they
thought that would be a more secure way of keeping the road open.
Fishermen wanted the inlet left open because as the strong ocean tide
washed through it brought fish into the sound. This inlet also
provided a way for them to the ocean instead of going all the way to
The day after the inlet had been cut, ferry service began from Avon to
Hatteras. On Good Friday that same year, a bridge had been
established and opened, rushed into place for the 1962 tourist
season. At the same time, the Atkinson Dredging Company had its
dredge in place hard at work filling the inlet with sand.
In November of 1962, gale winds blew, the inlet was widened another 200
feet, and the bridge was knocked over. The Virginian Pilot
reported on February 2, 1963, that 75 feet were all that remained to
close the inlet by dredging. The article stated that it would
take 4- 6 weeks to build a new road once the inlet had been
closed. The inlet was completely closed by the spring of 1963 and
a highway again established.
That part of Highway 12 has been washed over by subsequent storms, but
never damaged as badly as during the Ash Wednesday storm. An area
closer to the village of Buxton than the old inlet area is now
threatened by sea tide and a beach nourishment project was just
finished in that area.
Living on Hatteras Island ties us closely to the tides and winds.
The spring and summer months are before us, with their prevailing
southerly winds and beautiful days by the sea. Fall approaches
each year promising a break from heat and humidity, but tempered by the
fact that our island juts way out into the sea, seemingly daring a
hurricane to take us on. We have many mild days in the
wintertime. It’s not unusual to be able to take a walk along the
beach barefoot in January and even February.
But then there is March, which often lives up to its reputation as
coming in like a lion. As I sit writing today, a much milder
nor’easter’s winds are blowing, and a cold rain is
falling. We are hoping this year that March quickly
changes its temperament and goes out like a lamb.
To Read More of Rhonda's Blogs click here.