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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sixty One Degrees on New Year's Eve

It was so nice this morning that we headed over to Emerald Isle to check out the beaches. I wanted to visit one of my favorite spots, Third Street Beach. It has a small parking lot, but I like the the shape and slope of the beach there. In the summer we find it a great place for shell collecting. I checked the temperature when we got out of the car. I was not surprised to see a reading of sixty-one degrees Fahrenheit. It had to be warm. Even with a light breeze, I was comfortable in just a tee-shirt with long sleeves. I walked down to the water to take a few shots. I had the beach to myself for several minutes before a couple with a small dog walked by the spot where I was trying to catch the sun on the waves. As I was standing on the beach with the sun warming my back, I could not help but remember the weather forecasts that I read earlier this morning.
The reports were calling for heavy snow from northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey through New England into the Canadian Maritimes. The weathermen at Accuweather had this to say this evening. "The addition of cold winds wrapping around the low has turned the storm into a full-blown blizzard that could paralyze Cape Cod New Year's Eve and Canada's Maritimes overnight and Thursday."

Having lived through a number of those blizzards during my years in New England and Canada, I can vividly remember how cold and nasty a true blizzard can be. I also know that many of the areas adjacent to ground zero of a blizzard also do not fare very well. They usually have winds almost as strong and temperatures nearly as cold. The snow might be a little less, but even with all my years in the north, I never did figure out how to measure how much snow you are getting when it is snowing horizontally.

Given that this December has turned out to be a brutal introduction to winter for the northern part of the country, I was not surprised to see a higher than normal number of vehicles from New York and New Jersey in the parking lot at the grocery store. Our sixty-one degrees today must have felt pretty good.

In fact the temperature was so nice that we went for a walk on the Tideland Trails at the Croatan National Forest Access point in Cedar Point. There were a fair number of people trying to walk off some of their holiday meals. As we got out to one of the exposed areas on the trail we could feel the northerly winds begin to increase.

I guess misery loves company so we will have to take a shot of cold air tomorrow. At eleven PM as I am writing this in Bluewater Cove just a couple miles up the White Oak River, the temperature has dropped to thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

That is a pretty substantial drop, but as I glance at some of the temperatures up the east coast, that thirty-five degrees looks relatively warm.

My friend in State College, PA is looking at nineteen degrees and snow. My college roommate in Forked River, NJ is thirteen degrees cooler at twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. In my Boston, another college friend is enduring a balmy nine degrees with blowing snow. She had to clean snow from her roof after the last storm so I am pretty sure this one was not a welcome visitor.

Even here in North Carolina, my hometown of Mount Airy has cooled to twenty seven degrees. Some relatives in the area called to say that Boone had seen winds as high as seventy miles per hour.

Then there are our poor Canadian friends in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They are under an official blizzard warning with about one foot of snow expected and winds of fifty miles per hour. I did my tour of duty in the north so I know the only true escape from the cold is to head south.

I think tomorrow we are scheduled for our sympathy cold weather. We are only going to make it up to the upper forties. However, New Year's Day seems to be the only really cold weather we will see for the next week. We should almost make it to sixty on Friday. By Sunday we are back into the sixties.

If the winds stay calm, I am hoping for a nice bike ride which is a lot more fun than shoveling snow.

At this point in my life, the snow that I enjoy the most is what I see in the pictures my friends send me. Living on the Crystal Coast has been the best protection against snow that I could imagine.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Warm Green Christmas Day

Years ago I can remember saying that a particularly warm Christmas morning just did not feel like Christmas because of the temperature. Perhaps growing up in North Carolina at the foot of the Virginia mountains made snow seem magical, and something to wish for each Christmas. However, a number of years in Canada dealing with snow and cold made a green Christmas look very nice. Today as I look at a Christmas morning temperature of nearly sixty degrees Fahrenheit, I actually feel sorry for my friends in State College, Pennsylvania and Boston. They are trapped by geography. State College is nearly thirty degrees cooler than on the coast. While Boston has warmed to only twenty degrees cooler than the Crystal Coast, the walk for the morning paper at forty degrees Fahrenheit will require a coat. Perhaps shedding my coat is what I have grown to love the most about a green Christmas.
Bundling up is a fact of life in the north when the snow flies. With children you often feel like life is a continuous dressing and undressing. Perhaps the greatest freedom gained on the coast is the freedom to not wear a jacket.

We recently got to taste some seriously cold weather. We were visiting Roanoke, Va early the week before Christmas. One morning we were greeted with a low temperature of ten degrees Fahrenheit and winds gusting to forty miles per hour. It was weather where you could not ignore a coat. It was cold enough that your coat stayed on when coming back to your cold car after a quick dash to a store. I even had to dig out a pair of gloves for the cold Roanoke weather.

The cold even turned shopping for groceries into a test of wills. It was hard not to think back to the previous week weekend when it had been warm enough to wear shorts and take the boat for a ride down the river.

While the cold weather seems to make us want to hunker down in our homes, the warmth seems to draw us out of our homes. It is funny how you adjust the triggers that prepare you for the seasons. While seeing snow used to make me ready for winters and the holidays, now the yard turning brown and temperatures in the forties are all I need to feel like the holidays are just around the corner.

I am certain that getting ready for the holidays is a lot easier without having to fight the cold. Going from store to store loses the pressure of getting to a warm spot. Just the fact that hurrying to beat the cold is no longer important takes some stress out of the holidays. Then there is the pleasure of putting up decorations without your hands freezing.

Even the walk to get the morning paper becomes more of a stroll with perhaps the opportunity to chat with a neighbor. My willingness to have a morning chat at the mailbox is more than doubled at sixty degrees. Exchanging holiday pleasantries does not become a test of who can stand the cold the longest.

The one thing I do miss about a green Christmas is that it is too warm to wear my Santa hat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Fine Sunset and Warmer Weather

If you are dropping by Crystal Coast Living from a northern state, you probably are not very sympathetic to any complaining about our "winter" weather. Fortunately we are back into some better weather which means warmer temperatures. Still we have seen some ups and downs. Yesterday we went over to the beach at Emerald Isle to take some pictures. Since the temperature was over seventy four degrees Fahrenheit at our home about eight miles from the beach, I had followed my dress code and switched to shorts. It was great to get back in my standard uniform. It was still warm when we got to the beach, but I when I looked up the beach, I was a little concerned that Bogue Inlet Pier was disappearing into the fog.
Then I remembered the weathermen saying that a cold front was going to work its way through the area. When we lived in Canada, a cold front could mean several days of declining temperatures when your low temperature today became your high temperature tomorrow.

Fortunately on the Carolina coast, cold fronts are not nearly as serious, but they can bring substantial temperature drops. The one yesterday certainly surprised me. When we got to the beach, there was a little blue sky just off shore. As the cold front came down the beach, things got darker, then much cooler and foggier. Then the pier reappeared, and we started to adjust to the new temperature.

When we got back to the car, the temperature was fifty six degrees Fahrenheit. In just a few minutes, the temperature had dropped eighteen degrees. My shorts no longer felt so great much to my wife's amusement.

The good news is the temperature only dropped down to about fifty degrees last night. We managed to get back up in the mid-sixties today. Since my friends in Edmonton, Alberta endured temperatures of thirty four degrees below zero Fahrenheit this weekend, I am not going to complain very much about our highs only being in the sixties instead of the seventies.

I have also noticed that much of the country to the north of us seems to be enduring a series of winter storms. Our biggest problem to date has been the fog generated by the warm air over our cooler than normal waters. This morning there was an advection warning. I have heard of convection, but advection was a new one on me.

It turns out that it means horizontal movement of weather properties. In other words fog forming off the coast was going to be blown across the water to the shore.

We should be in the mid to upper sixties through the weekend. That qualifies as great weather in my book especially considering I will be waking up to snow on the ground Sunday morning just over three hundred miles from the coast.

If I could make it happen, December, January, and February would be months when my body never left Carteret County.

When I am down here on the coast, I know the odds are that we can see some seventy degree days even in January or February. When I am up in the mountains, I know there are even better odds that I can see freezing rain, sleet, or snow.

I would rather be betting on sunshine and blue skies.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Emerald Isle Christmas Parade

Finally we got to enjoy the Emerald Isle Christmas parade which had originally been scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving when it was rained out. I love the Emerald Isle parade. It is just a great old fashioned Christmas parade with something for everyone. To me it is the kickoff for the holiday season here on the Crystal Coast. It has been a great week for parades. Beaufort had theirs earlier this week, and on Saturday morning Morehead City had their parade. It was nearly a perfect afternoon for a Christmas parade. The temperature which was forty eight degrees Fahrenheit as we came across the bridge was just cool enough to remind us of the holiday season.
One of the reasons I find Carteret County so wonderful is that it is such an unpretentious place. People just try to have fun and include everyone in the fun. There are not a lot of rules which make it hard to participate in most events. As a result everyone does have fun.

You could certainly tell everyone is included by watching the Emerald Isle parade. This was the fifth annual parade and people really do enjoy it especially the children.

I really enjoyed seeing the Wells Fargo stage coach with its team and beautiful boxer riding atop the coach. I think Bluewater's float was the best in the parade, but I might be just a little biased.

There really was something for everyone. I saw vintage Corvettes, beach buggies, golf carts, the Croatan High School Marching Band, horses, miniature horses, dogs, boats, fire trucks, motorcycles, and a number of floats. There were some important people in the parade. Unfortunately in my excitement I missed some of them, but I did get Santa who was there in a horse drawn carriage.

I posted lots of pictures of the event at my Picasa Web Albums site.

Also I managed to get movies of the parade up on the web. I have a short Quicktime movie of the beginning of the parade. If you do not have Quicktime, you can download and install it.

Or on the same web page as the movie, you will find in the right side bar links to three YouTube movies which cover the whole parade. Check the bottom of my web page for browser suggestions. Watch the YouTube movies in high quality if you have the bandwidth.

I loved seeing the Marines with their giant truck and the Toys for Tots advertisement. It is good to get a reminder since the last day for Toys for Tots drop off is December 16. All the Bluewater Offices are accepting the donations.

After the parade was over we stopped by Merchants Park for some hot cider and cookies. Then Mayor Art Schools showed up to light the town tree. Shortly before that Santa had been delivered to his red chair by the tree. He had switched his mode of transportation from horse drawn carriage to an Emerald Isle Police Department SUV. I guess he knew the children were growing restless.

Given how much candy was thrown towards the children lining the streets, I am glad that I do not have any little ones to tuck into bed tonight.

There were also several big children who managed to stuff their pockets with candy.

A great time was had by all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comfort Food on the Coast

Even paradise has to endure some rain and cool weather once in a while. It is easier for me to talk about it with the knowledge that next week our temperatures will be in the mid-sixties. Recently our weather choices have been cool and clear or warm and wet. Those are not my favorite choices since the wet is rain instead warm salt water on my toes. We did finally get back to warmth today in spite of dodging rain showers all afternoon and evening. Around 5 PM a particularly strong band of showers had darkened the sky, and convinced my wife and I that it would be a great night to find a cozy restaurant over on Emerald Isle.
A December rainy night often makes one want to curl up on the sofa, but rain at sixty five degrees is not much of a threat. That is especially the case when your uniform is almost always beach casual.

When you have lived away from your home turf most of your adult life as we have, comfort food takes on a special meaning. When we were younger, I think we leaned more towards what our mothers cooked when we came home on college breaks.

Our children, who are grown, still enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich with Campbell's Tomato soup when the pantry is almost empty and the kitchen is about to close. That is often the case on their visits since they never seem to arrive before 9 PM.

As we were driving over the bridge to Emerald Isle, we knew that the area favorite for comfort food, chicken and pastry, would be hard to find since it is usually a lunch item.

While we have moved around North America, I have always adapted my comfort food to the region where we were living. In Nova Scotia, I became very partial to homemade clam chowder. Sometimes I even give in and make it myself.

When I worked in northern Virginia, I enjoyed a particular ethnic kabob restaurant as a spot to warm my soul and stomach.

In Roanoke, Va we have a neighborhood diner that serves a pot roast dinner every Thursday night for $4.99. That is an evening meal at a price that would be hard to find here on the coast even in December.

As I am thinking about that particular meal, I am reminding myself that the weather forecast for Roanoke on Friday December 12 is for some snow. I long ago decided that avoiding snow was worth the cost.

One of our new favorite foods since moving to the Crystal Coast is grouper. I love it cooked just about every possible way that it can be prepared.

Once we had decided on grouper, we headed for Chowdaheads, a small sandwich shop on the Island. Since the rain was pouring down, we had the restaurant to ourselves.

Our grouper sandwiches were delicious, and I will also admit to getting some of their homemade potato chips or Chowdafries.

As we headed home in the rain,I decided that a grouper sandwich qualifies as an evening comfort food on Emerald Isle.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Changing Coast Line

It should be no surprise to anyone that the sand here on the Southern Outer Banks moves around some each year even without storms. There are strong currents along our shore in certain areas. Some of those areas loose sand and some of them gain sand each year. One of the places along the Crystal Coast that is the most special to me is the Point over on Emerald Isle just off the intersection of Inlet Drive and Bogue Court. I first fished there around forty years ago as a teenager. At that time getting there required driving on the beach for a long way. In the fall of 2007, I decided that I was going to take my four wheel drive truck out on the Point and surf fish there once again. The easy part was going to get my beach driving permit from Emerald Isle.
After paying for the permit, we drove down to the Point to scope out the beach. Since it was perfect fishing weather, the area was packed with trucks. On top of that I had been so excited about the potential of driving on the beach that I had forgotten to bring any fishing tackle. I decided that my first efforts of driving on the beach could wait until it was a little less crowded.

We headed home, I got busy with some clients, and it was a couple of weeks before we got back over to the Point. In fact it was November 4, 2007. The Point was basically under water. As you can see from this picture, the only parking was for boats. The ramp eventually was damaged by high water, and part of it washed away.

I was pretty disappointed, but I heard much talk about how the beach around the Point was actually healing itself. I had great memories of how beautiful the area was in January of 2007 when I took the pictures in this web album.

All summer long we walked the beach in the area. The area which stayed dry at high tide gradually expanded. It was with great interest that we read in this week's newspapers that the ramp had been repaired. Some sand had also been piped in to fill the last spots remaining under water.

Early this afternoon before I retreated to my chair for the last afternoon of regular college football, we drove over to the Point to investigate. While the vehicle ramp was not open when we got there, the pedestrian access was officially open. As far as I can tell the ramp has been completely repaired. There is plenty of sand at the Point once again.

Though today was not a great day for pictures, this photo album shows how quickly the beaches can heal themselves. Click on any picture for a larger version.

I think the beaches running along Inlet Drive down to the Point are some of the nicest ones on Emerald Isle. I am glad to see them healthy again. One of favorite beach walks is to park at the small parking lot on the right on Coast Guard Road just before it runs into Inlet Drive. We then walk down to Inlet Drive and take a left until we reach the CAMA beach access boardwalk. It just takes a few minutes, and the beaches are well worth it.

These pictures from walking on the beach will give you a good idea of the area and why I think it is so beautiful.

I am looking forward to that surf fishing trip at the Point once again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Almost Empty Beach

The Thanksgiving holiday has passed, and now we are on the downhill slope to Christmas. This is perhaps the quietest time in beach communities. Since many people living here on the Crystal Coast are transplants, a significant number travel back to their home turf for the holidays. Perhaps they are hoping to see a white Christmas or just want to visit with family and old friends. It is almost as if December brings us a new level of peace and quiet to the coast. For those of us who stay here during the holidays, it is an extremely pleasant time. People seem to be happy to see each other, and there is plenty of time to visit since our area mostly manages to avoid the holiday rush.
We drove down to the Eastern Regional Access on Emerald Isle this afternoon. After a rainy morning, the skies had cleared, and the temperature briefly rose to fifty degrees Fahrenheit. There was no wind, and we had sunshine. That is usually a recipe for checking out the beach.

When we got to the parking lot, we were surprised to see it completely empty. I can only remember one other time in January or February of last year when we found the lot empty. Of course the weather this fall has been much cooler than either of the two falls we have lived here on the coast. Last year on December 2, the high temperature was sixty-eight degrees, and on December 3, it managed to make it to seventy degrees.

Unfortunately we are not going to see that this week. We have a forecast that shows mostly low fifties for high temperatures with only one day getting into the sixties.

The cool weather has made a difference in beach traffic. After we walked over to the boardwalk leading down to the beach, I was not surprised when I only saw a couple of people to the east of us and a few fishermen to the west.

It is the time of the year when you come to smell the ocean and listen to it instead of swimming or wading in it. Being on the beach is still a wonderful tonic for the soul. We stayed for several minutes soaking up the brief afternoon warmth of the sun. Just listening to the waves and smelling the salt spray helped to clear my mind.

By the time we were ready to leave another car had pulled into the parking lot, and the driver had wandered down to the boardwalk. As we passed, I felt like we were handing over temporary ownership of the beach to the new visitor.

We headed back down Emerald Drive and marveled at the gasoline prices being about half of what they were last summer when the roads were filled.

Our last stop before leaving the island was the grocery store at Emerald Plantation. It too was almost deserted. There's always a different feeling to the grocery stores this time of year. In the summer, sometimes the shelves look like they have been ravaged. In December, everything is orderly and the selection is fantastic. You even find locals taking the time to stop and have conversations in the aisles.

As we drove back across the bridge, the sky was beginning to turn golden just as it often does this time of year just after sunset. It was the end of another peaceful day here on the Crystal Coast.

It is nice to be in an area where things seem to slow down during the holidays. I certainly do not miss the hyperactive holiday rush of the cities.

There is plenty of room for visitors here along the blue waters of the Atlantic if you want to try a different kind of holiday this year. It just might become a tradition.