Category Archives: Pamlico Sound

Two Storms One Tide

As Florence changed course and battered other portions of North Carolina, many here thought that we’d escaped its power. In the meantime, torrential rain flooded inland rivers that would eventually feed into the sounds along the coast.

For the three weeks after Florence, I noticed a salinity drop and a higher tide level in Pamlico Sound behind my house. In fact it was 2 feet higher than normal, and stayed that way as Hurricane Michael steamed into the gulf coast of Florida.

When Michael’s path steered more to the west with winds of about 50, our prospects were looking better, although I recalled other storms taking a similar course, pushing the sound waters eastward. I expected tide so prepared for some rise. By eight o’clock on the night of the 11th the wind began shifting southwest and picking up. My barometer read 990 millibars and then the water began coming in. It rose until after midnight, and was 3 feet deep in the yard. Then as fast as it came up, it receded by early morning.

My house has another water line notch on it.

By sunup most of the water had drained off, but Route 12 still had issues with standing water.

Driving through it is hazardous to your vehicle’s health.

Driving through the tide is even worse when you navigate on the deeper side of the road at a higher rate of speed. That was a nice new truck!

The stories of stranded and flooded vehicles were numerous. To compound matters there was no evacuation order. The campgrounds were a mess. Flotsam and jetsam were everywhere within the water’s reach.

Cisterns next to my house have waterlines to show the flood depth. Being filled with fresh water, they tend to float as the more dense seawater gets deeper. The tank on the right was only three quarters full and came up a foot off the ground.

By my count, this was the 4th highest tide that I’ve seen here in 45 years. It was 32 inches below Irene, our highest with a ten foot storm surge. Right in between at 16 inches below Irene, there’s Arthur 2014 and the March storm of 93.

I’m always amazed at the resiliency of the salt marsh, particularly after a flood.

A rack line of debris shows forces at work. In six months it will be completely decomposed with tall thriving marsh grasses in its place.

The wetland looks healthier for it and flourishes come drought or high water. This section is composed of mostly black needle rush, sometimes called juncus grass. In adverse conditions it provides great shoreline protection for my property. It’s also a desirable habitat for clapper rails and seaside sparrows.

About the size of a dime, the marsh aster is still beautiful after being inundated with wind, waves and sea water.

The Big Freeze

The 2018 new year came in with a cyclone. It had been nice and peaceful with the holiday season coming to a close, and everyone began bracing for a well-forecast storm.

On the evening of the 2nd it started with about 2 inches of rain, then turned to snow by 4 in the morning. By that time the barometer had plunged to 976 millibars. I don’t think I had seen that since hurricane Emily grazed by in 1993. Gusts were measured in the mid-70’s from the northwest. My house shook. We were in the middle of one of our rare blizzards. Temperatures dropped into the low 20’s then high teens at night.

The warm up before the storm came at Eric and Val Stump’s New Years Eve party. A few snowflakes dropped as did the temperature.

Eric did a great job roasting some crab slough oysters.

Then on the morning of the 3rd, I saw my truck sprayed with icy snow.

The yard became a frozen winter wonderland.

My business banner had been blown away and it’s mast bent.

After snowing 3 inches, it was 25° and blowing a gale.

Oyster gloves were frozen to the clothes line.

My bathroom window had some interesting ice patterns on it.

Bundled up for the coldest conditions, I explored the Salvo Day Use Area.

The Rodanthe Pier pilings were plastered on the northwest sides.

Meanwhile the oyster shoot for Old Christmas had begun. It was low 20’s with a stiff northerly wind.

Everyone was gathering on the lee side of the Community Building, unless they were shooting.

A festive reunion for family and friends, Joey Jr. (left) celebrates with Tom Wiley and Joey O’Neal Sr.

I couldn’t resist shooting my long-time friends Brent Midgett, Willy Smith, and Larry Midgett.

To the victor of the oyster shoot go the spoils. Better eat ’em quick before they freeze.

Emily prepares to shoot as her dad Tom Wiley looks on. As is a proud family tradition here, she serves in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Larry Midgett was helping his daughter Tanya, get ready for her turn to shoot. Tanya is also following in the U.S. Coast Guard tradition, and currently stationed at Hatteras Inlet.

There was always someone waiting to shoot.

Even the young ones got in on the act. Camouflage was everywhere.

The next day frigid temperatures continued. It was 17° at night, and the sound froze out even further, as far as I could see.

From a second story deck, I couldn’t see any open water, only a duck blind on the horizon.

Behind my house the sound was solid. I heard some kids in Salvo rode their bikes on it.

Jon Brown and I marveled at the spectacle. It happens, but not often.

 

Catch of the Day

This time of year, as chilly weather sets in, my mind always wanders to a pastime I’ve enjoyed for decades. That is the craving for and the collection of oysters. In my  opinion, the Pamlico Sound produces the best tasting oysters found just about anywhere.

Commercially they are harvested either by using a dredge or tongs. Since I’m a recreational user, I hand pick mine from the inshore shallows.

At times I’d collect and carry them in a burlap bag. Other times I’d shuck to a container as I collected, leaving the shells where I found them. When I bought a kayak, my method of “fishing” became paddling and collecting. It was much easier and I still return the spent shells back from where they came.

My 12 foot kayak can haul a bushel or so.

The other day I found a half bushel of nice ones. At 6 and 8 inches long, the two biggest ones on top are genetically strong. My catch and release philosophy is to plant them in my oyster garden for spawning next Summer.

The 8 inch oyster was impressive and I found it stuck in a muddy creek bottom with the top 2 inches sticking out.

I shucked this fat one for an old friend.

Ready to satisfy, these are beauties. The one on the right has a resident pea crab. They live as a parasite in the shell with the oyster yet are considered a local delicacy. The colder the water gets, the better the quality and flavor!

Have a Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

The Writing on the Wall

Growing up as a Navy dependent, I was almost always near the ocean. Yet I never met a commercial fisherman until I moved to Hatteras Island. My first encounter was in 1974 when a new found friend, Bruce Midgett, took me along to fish his gill nets off Bay Landing, south of Salvo.

I brought my Yashica camera along and took a few shots. I’ve always been excited looking at this picture of Bruce holding a speckled trout. It revealed another world to me and I’ve embraced the small commercial fisherman ever since.

Early one morning in 1978, 65 year-old Burgess Hooper took me fishing on the Pamlico Sound. I was impressed at his knowledge and vitality out on the water.

                                My favorite shot came later that morning while Burgess hauled in his favorite cotton net, made for catching bluefish. He always took Princess with him. She was just as anxious to see what was caught. Burgess passed away about ten years later, and a week after that Princess died.

In 1977, my good friend Roger Wooleyhan was also fishing the Pamlico Sound and he always took his faithful black lab, Moose.

Calm water usually means not much of a catch, but the glassy conditions always make for a pleasant boat ride.

                              A 1985 assignment for an Outer Banks Magazine story, hooked me up with crabber Scott Bridges pulling his pots near Hatteras Inlet.

The labor of a commercial fisherman never ends. Maintenance of gear is a constant. I happened to visit Bruce Midgett at home in 1982 as he was mending a pound net.

In the Fall of 1982 I was driving by Bay Landing and stopped to watch Raymond Midgett and his son Robin, also known as Tater, hauling in after drifting a gill net.

The Spring of 1980, I tried a stint at commercial fishing and did okay. As I was fishing a net, Burgess Hooper dropped by to say hello. A week later my motor broke down and he had to tow me in. The commercial fishermen looked out for one another and generously gave fish to their friends and neighbors.

Today with commercial fishing, the writing is on the wall. Times have changed. They are being more regulated and eventually their livelihoods will be jeopardized, if not gone. I’ve been a witness to something that will not happen again as it did decades ago.

 

Matthew’s Lesson

With technological advances, weather forecasting has become better and better, but it’s still an inexact science. Nothing could teach that much more than Hurricane Matthew. Watching the weather radar and getting updates, tropical cyclones almost become living organisms. They are complex, and influenced by multiple meteorological mechanisms.

I’ve learned to take forecasting with some reservation, because most storm track predictions change over time as different atmospheric conditions interact. Here at home, I began monitoring Matthew as it became a hurricane on September 29th.

When Cape Hatteras was in the cone of possibility, I thought of boarding my windows, but overnight the forecast changed heading it out to sea, well to our south, even circling back toward Florida. Matthew defied that forecast, deviated somewhat, but continued its northward march along the coast. Still predicted to turn seaward, it headed northeast toward Cape Hatteras, and I was hoping it wouldn’t go up the Pamlico Sound, like Irene. Despite the warnings, our Dare County Control Group decided not to call for an evacuation of tourists or residents, and it turned out to be a bad decision.

Waiting for the turn that didn’t come, I went to bed Saturday night with a lowering barometric reading of 994 millibars. Onshore gale force winds blew that night with a little rain. Morning became more calm until about 5 AM, when we were awakened with an abrupt change of wind direction from the north and gusts near 90.

Matthew, despite predictions to be a tropical storm was still a hefty category one hurricane as it caromed off the Cape and out into the open Atlantic. By the time I checked the barometer again it was daylight and read 986 millibars. The wind gradually subsided throughout the day.

It was a close call for residents of Waves. Most everyone underestimated what this storm would do, and it could have been a lot worse for us. Our neighbors in Hatteras and Ocracoke were not so lucky.

soundEven at 11 that morning, the Pamlico Sound was still pretty rough.

houseI designed my house to shed gales from the north, so it fared well. There was  some standing rain water, a few broken branches and that’s it.

center-line                                 The tide rose just enough to overflow the ditches and spill over on to the highway.

ncdotWorkers from NCDOT are always on the scene quickly, salt water or not.

beachThe ocean was not as much a problem as was the Pamlico Sound.

uprootedThe main damage was with uprooted trees….

outer-beaches…. and broken, blown over signs.

truckThe biggest signs went down the hardest.

sunsetThe day ended better than it began, with a sailors’ red sky delight.