Well, believe it or not, if you look at the law of averages, Nags Head and the Outer Banks is certainly not inundated with hurricanes, but when the elements are right, it is almost a certainty that it will be directly. And while Florida is under a constant and much greater risk, all we have to do is look at how many miles the Sunshine State has on the open water and the high temperature of that water to understand. But, likewise, the Outer Banks has some special features that, when a storm makes the northward turn and the high pressure gradients leave an open door, the odds are that any coastal approaching storm headed north will either land on the Outer Banks are brush by very close. Let's take a look at why.
First off, the only thing that keeps a storm from turning north as it approaches the Continental US from the mid or far Atlantic is a blocking high pressure system. The natural curvature of the earth makes it clear why and as the big African storms near the Caribbean they frequently begin to slow and with the slowing down comes the turn unless pressure gradients block them. In such cases, they continue westward until they either find a break in the pressure or continue west into Central America, Mexico, Texas or further up in the Gulf if the gradient finally weakens. As an example last year's Hurricane Irma which was difficult here in Florida, gave us several indications of turning before it did with it ultimately raking the entire state of Florida before dissipating further north inland. The high pressure up to the north never weakened as earlier expected.
But let's consider what happens when the Bermuda High remains offshore, leaving an opening between the coast and the high pressure. In such a case, the storm will make the turn along the earth's natural curvature of the globe and work it's way around the high pressure. It will naturally try to stay in the sea and follow the warm Gulf Stream northward, for remember that warm water is its engine, its fuel. Now consider the lay of the coast with Florida's east coastline angled northwest and the coastline then gradually turns north and then northeastward finally more sharply east above Wilmington.
And what do you think that means? Well, from being as close as three miles from shore at Miami, the Gulf Stream gets further out from land as if flows toward North Carolina, only to again move much closer to shore when it faces the first big jutting point of land, Cape Lookout. And from there it continues to stay close in, about twelve miles all the say to Cape Hatteras, where it comes into contact with another force, the Labrador Current, one moving more rapidly from the north and containing colder water. This, in turn, causes a battle of forces at Diamond Shoals, where they come into violent contact. When the conditions are right, the competing forces froth up like a geyser at sea, and the agitation is what created and built Diamond Shoals in the first place, aptly earning it the title of "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for all of the lost ships in the unseen sand shoals below the surface.
And what about the Gulf Stream? Well, when the cold Labrador Current approaches inshore from the north, if pushes the flow of the Gulf Stream further east, meaning that the distance from shore increases and by the time Oregon Inlet is reached, it is thirty miles out and increasing as it starts to work it's way toward Great Britain.
So, a hurricane working its way north from Florida will try and follow the Gulf Stream if it can, but if the high pressure gradient is too close, it will force the storm toward shore and as is often the case it will be in the area around Wilmington or further northeast toward Morehead City or the Core Banks. And here's where it gets tricky. If the storm makes it up to Cape Hatteras with its eye still intact but remaining off shore, it will gradually move away from shore with the Gulf Stream. If below Hatteras it is forced across the barrier islands, it will work itself north in Pamlico Sound, shallow but very warm and with it will come the strong winds and the higher tides circulating around the center, driving massive water volumes over the beaches into the sound. This happens as long as the center is strong and remains either or water or where at least the eastern half of the circulation does and then, after it passes and the winds reverse direction, all of that water built up in the shallow bodies must seek its way back to the ocean with heavy soundside flooding. The worse the storm the worse the flooding and the outward flow is often much worse than the initial cycle.
The prime season for the Outer Banks and even north in Tidewater will be starting in August with the peak usually being around mid-September, then tapering off until another hurricane season is put to rest. But it's important to remember that just because hurricane season officially ends, it doesn't let us off the hook. After all, the worst storm I can ever remember on the Outer Banks was the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which many still call the "Perfect Storm." I talk about it in detail in my book "Summers at Old Nags Head" since it was a record breaker, with the entire region subjected to five straight record high tide cycles, never allowing the sea to retreat. And when it happened, Nags Head and the Outer Banks only had about two hundred and fifty year round residents and generally around fifty thousand visitors. I can only surmise what such a storm would do with all of the massive development and population increases of today. So, be prepared, Outer Bankers, don't take anything for granted and think that nothing like that can ever happen. The power of nature always wins her big battles. Buckle up and be ready.