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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Living With March Weather

We all know that March can be a challenging month with weather that rarely pleases anyone. Yet for those of us living along the Southern Outer Banks, there are moments when it certainly looks and feels like spring. Everything about this morning made me think we had transitioned to the time when we could really start enjoying the out of doors. In certain ways that is completely true. You can go for a beach walk like I did the other day. You can ride your bike or hike a favorite trail. However, getting out on the water is a completely different challenge. Experienced eyes would likely guess that the wind was blowing somewhat in the picture of White Oak River at the top of the post, and they would be right. Perhaps the wind is why one of my boating friends calls March his least favorite month.
This week I did manage to grab a great afternoon on the beach and even a short ride in my skiff. It is only fair to say that it took me three tries before I was able to walk on the beach with wind, temperature, and sun cooperating. Only the water temperature itself was stuck in the near winter mode with surf temperatures in the fifties.

That cool water temperature and the winds have kept my kayak resting in the garage. Usually by this time of year I have made a couple of valiant attempts to fight the wind out into the river. It has not happened yet this year.

Earlier in the week, I was defeated by the winds when I stopped by Iron Steamer Beach. The water was beautiful but stirred up, and the sand was being blown across the beach just at ankle height. I actually had fun watching the sand drift almost like blowing snow, but the combination of the wind and cold ocean water cooling the air drove me back to the car pretty quickly.

Friday was the day for beaches this week, but even late on Friday things began to go down hill. I headed to Food Lion to grab some groceries about 5PM. I went into the store wearing shorts and a tee shirt. It was at least seventy degrees when I walked through the door. It had been a wonderful day. I managed to work in the yard in the morning and enjoy the beach in the afternoon. After a winter of nasty weather, that was a definite improvement.

However, when I came out of the grocery store, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped into the fifties. I headed home and changed back into my blue jeans and sweat shirt. Once I listened to the weather, I went out and covered my recently planted tomato plants. The next morning we did not have frost, but the temperature had dropped all the way to thirty nine degrees. Later in the morning I called my wife who is spending some time at our other home in the Virginia mountains. Their temperature had dropped to twenty-eight degrees, and there had been a hard frost.

Yesterday the wind stayed strong most of the day. In spite of that if you could find some shelter from the wind, it was not a bad day. It was still not good enough to go back to shorts and tee shirt, but i did get rid of the sweat shirt.

That same Saturday morning I found one of those sheltered spots and enjoyed looking out over the water from the porch of the clubhouse at Bluewater Cove. It was warm enough there to get me wondering how long it will be before we can enjoy the Bluewater pool.

Today as I drove across the bridges at Swansboro and headed to the Swansboro River Park to take the picture for this post, I could tell the White Oak would have been a rough ride in any boat much less a skiff. The wind was blowing almost straight down the river. It was one of those days when if you can make it down the river to the harbor, you could likely find some place down the Intracoastal near Hammocks Beach where there might be some shelter from the wind.

However, you would still be faced with a rough, cold ride back home. After lunch I was checking the weather on the Internet and noticed that the afternoon temperature was thirty eight degrees Fahrenheit at our mountain home. I figured it must be wrong and checked the temperature on our front porch here in Bluewater Cove. It was sixty eight degrees.

Since our Virginia home is only 320 miles away, I called my wife to see if the thirty eight degrees was right. She said it was so cold and damp that our daughter's two visiting dogs were having second thoughts about going outside.

She said some wind at sixty eight degrees sounded good to her and a lot better than rain, fog, no wind and thirty eight degrees. March is just a tough month. That is especially so in the mountains, but it even rings true at the beach. Of course there are places where winter still holds sway in March.

Last night as I was getting ready to say good bye on the phone to some Canadian friends, they told me they were having a great maple syrup run, but it would also be a while before their snow disappeared, especially since the forecast had them getting more today and tomorrow.

The good news is that everywhere in the US and Canada the days are getting longer and the sun warmer. Soon the winds will come not as often, and eventually the water will warm.

Here on the Crystal Coast that will happen sooner rather than later. That is why we live here. I am happy to report that the long range forecast calls for some temperatures touching the eighties this weekend. That makes it a perfect kick off for the spring beach season.

That just might be what we need to finally finish off winter and get summer firmly planted on the horizon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Stellar Afternoon on the Beach

There was a smile on my face yesterday well before I made it to the beach. All week I had tried to go for a walk on the beach. One day earlier in the week I had to turn the car's heater on to warm my hands after standing on the beach for five minutes and taking pictures. Yesterday I knew well before my toes hit the sand that it was going to be nice. Wednesday afternoon we had taken my skiff out for a quick ride on the river. What we had found besides the power to my GPS was not working was that it was actually nice on the water. The winds had also disappeared. By lunch yesterday it was almost seventy degrees Fahrenheit, and the winds were still calm,. Based on that, I was nearly certain that a trip to the beach would be a success.
Perhaps one of the things that I enjoy the most here on the Crystal Coast is the opportunity to enjoy good weather when it happens. I can remember some vacations when we tried to do warm weather activities even though the weather was not cooperating. With a vacation of one or two weeks, it was often impossible to reschedule because of weather. Now that I am living on the Crystal Coast, I grab any opportunity like yesterday to enjoy the beach especially this time of year.

As I crossed the bridge to Emerald Isle, I noticed a small boat anchored in the Intracoastal. That too was a good sign. When I got to the Coast Guard Road stoplight, I rolled down my windows just to check the temperature. I guessed the upper sixties, and when I checked against our car's temperature sensor, I found it was reading 67 degrees.

I have definite preferences for beaches. One of my favorites is Third Street Beach. As I have written before, the only place that I can find "Third Street" is on a Google Map. However, the small parking lot is easy to find, if you continue east along Emerald Drive until you get to Fifth Street. Turn right on Fifth Street and then make an immediately left turn on Ocean Drive. The Third Street Beach parking lot will be on your right in just a short distance.

As is often the case there was only one car in the parking lot. I parked, walked the short distance to the board walk entrance to the beach, descended the steps, and left my sandals at the bottom.

The warm sand felt great on my feet. I spent the next thirty to forty five minutes taking pictures and walking on the beach. I had a wonderful encounter with a very cooperative Willet. I even stuck my toes in the still cold water.

Much of the really soft sand has been trapped between the dunes. We will have to wait for the wind to blow from the other direction to get a nice soft sand coating back on the beach. Based on the way the winds were blowing sand around on the beach earlier in the week, we should not have to wait long.

As I put my sandals on, I made the decision that it was too nice of a beach day to let it end this early in the day. With that in mind, I headed back to Emerald Isle and made my way out Coast Guard Road. I parked in the parking lot just before Coast Guard Road ends at a stop sign. It is only a short walk to the beach from there.

I especially enjoy the board walk to the beach at this location. It crosses almost three complete sets of dunes. This is also one of the nicest beaches on the island. The slope is very shallow, and I have taken some stunning sunset pictures. from this beach.

I spent another thirty to forty five minutes wandering the beach. I did not see another person on the beach. I thought that I could see some people way in the distance, but I could not tell for sure. By the time I got back to the car, I was a little warm, but it felt great.

Now that the air is warm, we just have to work on getting the water temperature out of the fifties. There are links to more beach pictures in this article .

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wind and Waves

That is the thing about spring. Just when you think things are headed in the right direction, along comes a cold front, and you are back to wearing blue jeans and sweat shirts to preserve the illusion of warmth. From what I have heard, this weekend was absolutely great. Someone told me that it was even nice enough to be out boating for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. I am a self-confessed weather junkie so it was no surprise to me that this morning when I managed to find some rain about half way out to the mailbox on my trip to retrieve the morning paper. Later in the morning, the rains became heavy enough to send our cat scurrying back inside after he ventured on the deck while I was taking a picture of the downpour. Fortunately the rain did not last long so we did not get the soaking that some mountain areas received. Still it was a rude reminder that it might be a bumpy ride to summer.
When I finally caught up with things today and ran out our for a few errands, I got a little over optimistic and ended up wearing shorts and a tee shirt. It only took me a couple of stops to figure out that I had made a strategic error. Had I known that the North Carolina mountains would be receiving snow showers along with their rain today, I would picked some different clothing.

Still I did not end up frozen, and likely if I had worn shorts a few weeks ago, there would have been a different result. There is no doubt that everyone is ready for spring. One of my errands was searching for tomato plants. I had managed to purchase some nice ones in Roanoke, Va over the weekend, but I left them in our Virginia garage. Now most people would just wait and retrieve the other plants, but I am the defending tomato king among my circle of tomato growing friends, so a day lost now might cost me my crown.

I also had to get a few bales of pine straw for the temporary windbreak that I create for my plants until the spring winds die down a little. Hopefully I will get the plants in the ground tomorrow. We have some nice weather coming so I am hoping for a strong start on my quest for a third straight crown. Tomatoes are huge part of our diet in summer, so having them ripen around the first week of June is also a welcome sign that summer has unofficially arrived.

Late this afternoon, the clouds started dissipating, and I became a little more hopeful that I might find some blue sky and capture a few photos. I changed into some warmer clothes and headed over to Emerald Isle around half past six. I decided to head to the Eastern Regional Access so I could check out the progress on the new bike path. I am pleased to report that much of the new trail is just waiting for pavement. A short stretch at the far end is still under construction, but I think the trail will be done soon.

As soon I got parked at the beach access and opened the door to my truck, I knew that March had tricked me once again. Even with blue jeans and sweat shirt, it was a cool walk to the beach. By the time I had snapped a few photos of the waves and empty beach, my hands felt frozen. I had to turn the heat on in my truck as I cruised back to Emerald Isle. I just missed a spectacular sunset over Bogue Sound by about five minutes, but there is always tomorrow, and it is supposed to be clear and warmer.

March and a good part of April are always tricky. Sometimes it looks cold and windy, but by the time you get to your destination, your trip turns out to be a great idea. Other times, you gamble with the weather and end up being glad to be back in home port.

With Bradford pear trees already blooming along with the daffodils, it will not be long before the azaleas are in bloom. Then in just a few weeks, we will be complaining about the heat. As it has often been said, if you do not like the weather just wait a few hours, and it will change.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Is In the Air

While the water is still in the fifties, the air has made it to the seventies. I think we might just have made it through winter. With some nice days this week, and a really nice weekend on tap, winter is quickly becoming a distant memory. I believe spring is going to break out all over the Carolinas and Virginia this next week. I even got a report of some daffodils along one of my favorite mountain trout streams. I find this a tough time of year. We are tantalizingly close to the time we can really start enjoying the beaches and waters of the Crystal Coast. Yet we are not there when it comes to the water, and a trip out in a kayak will quickly convince almost anyone that the water needs to warm up a little more before we can have some serious fun.
Last year this same week, the weather turned very nice, and it was once again time for beach walks. It looks like we are going to catch up with last year and have some nice weather to balance all the cold we had this winter. It is does not always work out that way.

Whenever we get to the middle of March, I am always reminded of the March 1993 "storm of the century" which certainly proved that this is a tricky time of year even in the Carolinas. That year my wife and I were coming back from a spring trip to Alberta. We got as far as Toronto when the storm hit.

At the time we were living in Roanoke, Va. I know the coast also got a lot of snow, but we got over three feet of snow in the mountains. When we finally got to the airport, I was glad that my years in Canada had taught me to always have a snow shovel in the car until May.

While long range weather is notoriously risky, the forecast for the next two weeks only has one day when the high temperature is going to slip out of the sixties and seventies here on the Crystal Coast. Based on that, I think we can rule out snow. It looks like we will be headed into Easter weekend, April 3-4, with some outstanding weather. I think I will be sleeping with my windows open that week before Easter.

It really is getting to be that time of year that we live for on the Crystal Coast. I am looking forward to hearing fishing jumping in the water behind our home. It is also a great time of year to go visit some of the area attractions before they busy with the summer traffic. Among my favorite places to go in the spring are the Core Sound Museum and the Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores.

If you are thinking about visiting the Crystal Coast this year, now is the time to make plans. It is a great weekend to come for a visit and scope out the area. This Saturday is the annual Swansboro Oyster Roast. It is a great charity event, and it one of the places that you can end up elbow to elbow with almost anyone while you are shucking your oysters. How much nicer can it get than all you can eat steamed oysters? Of course there is plenty of other food, but the oysters are it for me.

It is a good thing that the Oyster Roast coincides with good weather. You can take a walk on the beach to build up your appetite and then you can take another for some exercise to help work off all that great seafood cooked up by the folks in Swansboro. It is one of the events that makes this area such a great place to live and visit.

Things look a whole lot better on this side of winter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Season Is About To Open

While things might be a little damp until Sunday, it is time to declare beach season open. With temperatures in the mid-sixties for most of next week, winter seems to have finally been driven away. It was the week of March 19 last year before things warmed up enough for a beach walk. Measured by that yardstick, we are doing okay. Even going back to 2008 and comparing our weather to that year, it looks like the spring weather is on track. I heard a report today that the sound was now fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. With the warmer weather and water comes festival season, and it is one of the reasons that living on the Crystal Coast is so much fun.
To me spring is here when I see the tents of Emerald Isle's Saint Patrick's Day Festival . While I have attended festivals when it was a little cool or damp, it is still always fun. Just about any kind of craft you can imagine is there.

You can expect plenty of great food. I particularly enjoy the barbecue chopped right in a festival tent as needed. You will find just about any food that your imagination can dream up. The whole festival is a great excuse for getting out and enjoying one of the first events of spring. I always enjoy watching for strange green things. I am never disappointed and always surprised at the creativity of some folks.

Here on the coast sometimes spring and spring events come at us very fast, but fortunately this year we are once again spared the challenge of having the Emerald Isle Saint Patrick's Day Festival and the Swansboro Oyster Roast on the same day. That happened in 2007, and it took great restraint early in the day so there was still room for plenty of oysters. This year's annual Oyster Roast is scheduled for March 20, the weekend after the Saint Patrick's Day Festival. These two events are great kickoff events for spring. They also make nice bookends for a great week at the beach.

As the daffodils get into full bloom and the Bradford pear trees begin to bloom, I suspect we will once again begin to attract tourists. I am looking forward to the first serious week of tourists which usually comes around Easter. Tourists bring new life to the area just as plants bring spring colors.

While we have to endure some rain for the next few days, the prospect of spring festivals and even some spring crops and flowers are likely enough to get me through the damp weather. It seems like the recent warmth is helping get back on tract for a normal spring. I know it is normal to get ripe strawberries sometime between the last of March and the middle of April. I suspect we have a chance of tasting some berries in that time frame.

I am hoping all the rain and cold weather have not caused any problems with the strawberry crop. Just maybe we can get an answer to that question in the next few weeks. One of my resolutions for 2010 is to make some homemade strawberry ice cream with our old White Mountain freezer. Using the old freezer will bring back a lot of memories and be a great way to entice our granddaughter to visit us down here on the Crystal Coast

Friday, March 5, 2010

Emerald Woods, a Favorite Island Hike

The sun was shining and the skies were a brilliant blue when we headed over to Emerald Isle for breakfast at Ballyhoo's. I decided a couple of days ago that getting spring here requires an effort of mind over weather . Having breakfast out is not one of our regular winter activities, but spring usually finds us venturing out earlier. Today I hoping that wandering out for breakfast and a quick hike might help usher in some warmer weather. It might be a futile effort on my part, but getting out and enjoying the out of doors is something that I enjoy anyway. If nothing else, I will just be a little ahead of the curve with my vitamin D once the nice weather arrives.
There is something about enjoying a breakfast outside of home that changes your perspective on the day. Perhaps it is just a break in a routine that is hard to change that makes the difference. Maybe it is starting the day with some food that someone else cooks. Whatever the reason, we enjoy breakfast outside the home as much or more as we do a fancy evening meal. The bonus is that I do not have to get dressed up, and the price is much more reasonable.

Wearing a normal outfit with blue jeans at breakfast also made it easier to go on my hike after our meal. Perhaps because this was my birthday week, I ordered the biscuits and gravy, while my wife had a cheese omelet with some grits. Both were excellent. We also enjoyed relaxing and not worrying about cleaning up our dishes.

After our hearty meal, I needed some exercise so we headed to Emerald Woods for my hike. There was little doubt that down by the water a stiff breeze would be blowing. The sheltered section of the trail would be welcome protection from the winds. The Emerald Woods Park is just a short distance out Coast Guard Road on the right. It was actually designed as an area to hold excess water from storms.

One of the things that I like the most about the Park is the construction of the trail. It is a boardwalk all the way from the trail head to its terminus in Bogue Sound. I know the trail is accessible to everyone since last summer I took a friend who is confined to a wheel chair all the way to Bogue Sound on it. An added bonus of the park is that the ladies always appreciate the restroom facilities.

Today, I was the only hiker on the trails since my wife's feet were bothering her. I have seen several deer in the marshes on previous trips. Today there were none. The Town of Emerald Isle has authorized some of the town's policemen to thin the deer herd through bow hunting in the Park when it is closed. That probably explains the lack of deer. I suspect they are avoiding the Park until the hunters go away.

I am always impressed when I get to the point where the trail heads down to Bogue Sound. It is so neat hiking through the woods and then all of the sudden having Bogue Sound and the Emerald Isle bridge spread out in front of you. In the summertime, it is rare to find the floating pier unoccupied. There always seems to be a youngster fishing there under the watchful eyes of a parent. I have run into couples enjoying a glass of wine while they watch the sun slip below the horizon.

I took two web pages worth of pictures today. While there were no real signs of spring, the hike to the sound and back put some spring into my step and made me feel a little less guilty about my breakfast meal.

The main Emerald Woods trail is one of the easiest you will find in the area. As mentioned I have pushed a wheel chair the length of the trail without any difficulty other than my wife being worried that I was going to launch my college roommate into the sound if I lost control on the aluminum ramp and dock at the end. There are other trails in the park, but we have yet to find time to hike them. Today I noticed some new markings where they cross the main trail so perhaps when the weather warms up, we will give them a try.

I was hoping that an earlier slide show that I made might have shown the Park during the summer, but it was also done in the early spring. It does have a few different pictures. One of my favorite photographs of all time was made from the Park. I call the shot " The End." It is a sunset picture that I took in February 2007.

If you have never been on the Emerald Woods Trail, you are missing a real treat. Now is a great to get out and hike it. It is one of the few places that you can find real protection from the wind.