It was late summer in 1976 and our family was on the Outer Banks in Rodanthe. This was the first time I had been back to the golden shores in a decade due to college studies far away and about seven years of active military service. We arrived on a Sunday in early afternoon and were staying in a beachfront efficiency adjacent to the Rodanthe pier. All we wanted was a place where the beach was quiet for our family of three, a place to fish, both on the pier and surfcasting, yet close enough to Nags Head and Roanoke Island for visiting relatives. The room would be only for sleeping and maybe fixing a sandwich or snack. I never forgot my love for the Outer Banks, I just kept it in the recesses of my mind for those years gone by but final Army reassignment to Virginia served to rekindle that eternal flame.
Early that evening whilet having a great seafood dinner at a local fish hangout, I overheard some folks talking about the incoming storm. It was a low grade hurricane named Belle and it was churning in the Atlantic south of Hatteras and could go anywhere. TV coverage wasn't nearly as good in those days and before dark a sheriff's deputy came by the lodging establishment leaving notices of the storm. The proprietor indicated that it would likely stay offshore but that local flooding from heavy rain and significant wind was likely. Then again, should it cross the Banks instead, the issue of storm surge would become an issue since the timing would likely be in a high tide cycle. Many others were packing up quickly; I was taking time to ponder. Evacuation wasn't required but it was recommended for those in buildings not raised significantly.
As it got dark, I walked outside and up the small beach dune and found the ocean beginning to kick up fury and indications the high tide would be considerably above normal. So, the question for me was what would tomorrow's tides and oceans do? The prognostication was for the storm to hit or miss sometime Monday and then clear out rather quickly. As I walked back to our efficiency, I thought about my wife and young daughter and realized that leaving was the only sensible course of action. I think if I had been by myself, I would have stayed and I knew that if we still had the old family cottage high on stilts at Nags Head, there wouldn't even be a thought of leaving.
So, we packed up, I told the proprietor we would return as soon as the storm passed and we headed off into the night, a depressing drive of nearly four hours back to the north shore of Hampton Roads. Arriving about ten o'clock, the late TV weather said that Belle would most likely skirt Hatteras early in the morning but since it was a hurricane, nothing was ever for sure. I was tired and went to bed, sleeping soundly until about six in the morning.
Jumping out of bed, I switched on the radio which was giving more frequent reports. Right then the storm was passing offshore Hatteras and moving nearly due north. Since the coastline north of the Cape is more north northwesterly, that would carry the storm even further out from shore at Rodanthe. The beach road was under water in places and there was some moderate erosion of the beach, but there were only spotty power outages which was normal. I jumped out of bed and, like a schoolboy, woke both my wife and little girl up.
"Come on, let's get up," I gleefully exclaimed. "The storm is going by and we need to get going back to the beach. I don't want to waste another moment. We can be there by mid-afternoon."
We had a quick bite to eat and were gone. The only time we stopped was for gas and at the Point Harbor Grill for a big lunch. Looking out over Currituck Sound, the clouds were breaking and the sun was coming through. On the rest of the drive to Rodanthe there were a few signs blown around, perhaps a downed awnign or two with some water in the road, but that was it.
Approaching Rodanthe, there was one section of road with a lane closed but otherwise things looked good. And our lodging was as fit as a fiddle and I couldn't wait to go fishing. In less than twenty-four hours we had returned home and made it back. But I was glad I took the action I did, for a bad call could have meant a flooded car with a likely destroyed engine and a little girl crying, not understanding what was going on. Instead, she and her mother were tired, but happy and the next day dawned bright with fair winds and following seas.
The weather for the remainder of the week was beautiful, I even had a banter fishing catch off the pier one night while watching a beautiful thunderstorm over the mainland to the northwest. When the resulting squall without the lightning passed over us later, the fish started biting and I filled up my bucket. It was fried fish and hush puppies for breakfast the next day.
Now I'll continue the story of the storm that didn't happen with another storm tomorrow. It was a different setting and a different issue, but it offers a good look at how hard it can be sometimes to make the right call. So, if you are possibly in a big storm's path this season and you find yourself in a location that makes you a sitting duck of a target, don't take chances. Sometimes they can ruin your day, in fact, your life. It's just the way things are when hurricanes are involved and you either accept the consequences or suffer from any possible outcome.
Love the Outer Banks, yes, but do so with respect for all of the powerful elements that impact her existence. You'll feel better and live longer that way.