Rain and The Great Outer Banks Escarpment

Beach escarpment in Nags Head, looking toward Jennette's Pier.
Beach escarpment in Nags Head, looking toward Jennette’s Pier.

Into every life a little rain must fall, but this has been ridiculous. Since this last system moved in on Saturday evening, rainfall has come in around 10”. That’s a lot.

For the most part the Outer Banks actually handles a heavy rain like that pretty well. The ground is porous—these are giant sandbars—so the water drains quickly into the aquifer. There is often some deep standing water on the roads during the rain; that can’t be helped. We are, after all, at sea level, so there is not very much drainage happening.

Some interesting things did occur this time.

Combination of Natural Forces Create New Beach Feature

One in particular was something we hadn’t seen before. The combination of a king tide—a high tide that lasts longer than usual, heavy seas and extraordinary amounts of rain combined to combined to carve out a 10’ high escarpment in the Nags Head beach just north of Jennette’s Pier.

It’s an interesting physical featue. Extending about 200 yards along the sea, the first half of the escarpment is 10’-11’ high, gradually lowering until it rejoins the beach.

According to an Outer Banks Voice interview with Tim Kana, the President of Coastal Science, scientific term for what has happened is an “erosional arc,” and it is certainly arc shaped. Coastal Science is the firm that designed the Nags Head beach nourishment project. Nags Head will renourish their beach next year.

According to Kana, the dramatic loss of sand was probably caused by a gap in the offshore sandbar that is usually there to dissipate the force of the waves. The combination of high surf and a longer than usual high tide caused the sand to collapse and be taken back out to sea.

It is certainly possible that the sand will form a sand bar. Generally speaking, sand from the beach does not travel very far.

Another escarpment has formed in Kitty Hawk. However, that is caused by town pumps that are draining low lying areas adjacent to the ocean. The outflow has carved away the beach. The effect in Kitty Hawk is expected to be short term.

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Outer Banks Beach Nourishment Project Gains National Recognition

The beginning of the Outer Banks intra-local beach nourishment project. Duck, spring 2017.
The beginning of the Outer Banks intra-local beach nourishment project. Duck, spring 2017.
Intra-Local Effort Recognized for Multiple Community Benefits

What does a couple of years of planning and $38.5 million earn? When it comes to beach nourishment, recognition as one of the best projects in the nation.

The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) which is a trade organization for companies engaged in nourishment, recognized the Intra-local project, taking note especially that it took a couple of years to move the project forward and that multiple towns and jurisdictions worked together.

“The take-home message for these projects is a multi-town beach nourishment project can be successful even when the odds seem to be against you,” Lee Weishar, chair of the association’s Best Restored Beach Committee, said.

The initial observation is that the project, that included the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, performs as advertised. Although there were a number of significant storm events over the fall and winter of this past year, overwash and flooding was minimal with no reported infrastructure damage.

For a town like Kitty Hawk that is remarkable. The town’s beaches in particular suffered significant loss of sand and even storms that were not particularly strong caused widespread road closures as waves overtopped the dunes.

The ASBPA ranks nourishment  projects on three criteria:

  • The economic and ecological benefits the beach brings to its community;
  • The short and long-term success of the restoration project; and
  •  The challenges each community overcame during the course of the project.

The funding for the project was an innovative combination of local and Dare County money. Contributions from the towns were significant, but the lion’s share came from County coffers.

“Dare County is committed to preserving our beaches,” county board chairman Bob Woodard told the Outer Banks Voice.“They are the engine that drives our tourism economy and they require ongoing attention.”

Take some time to explore Outer Banks beaches. Check out Joe Lamb Jr., & Associates. for the best properties and the best locations.

Springtime in February on the Outer Banks

An even break and warm weather in February bought the surfers out.
An even break and warm weather in February bought the surfers out.
A Great Day to Be on the Beach

A day like we had today is a rare Outer Banks treat in February. Warm temperatures, a breeze from the southwest and the waves were breaking beautifully this morning.

Of course, the water temperature is still 45-50 degrees, so no one was in the water in shorts, but there were still a fair number of surfers and SUPs on the water—in dry suits.

It’s still a little early to tell, but it may be that a sandbar is forming across from where John’s Drive-in is located.

One of the effects of beach nourishment—and the entire Kitty Hawk beach was nourished—is sand from the beach forms a sandbar in the near shore. That sandbar is the part of the way beach nourishment protects the roads and homes along the shoreline.

If a sandbar is forming there, it would be there first time in a while that a sandbar has appeared there.

Farther north, a little south of Pelican’s Perch—that’s the pink Joe Lamb Jr., & Associates home that sits out on the beach—the sandbar is well formed and there were a number of surfers and SUP catching some waves.

It wasn’t just surfers enjoying a rare springlike day in February; dogs were out with their friends, their barks filled with joy. Quite a number of couples were strolling along the beach looking for sea glass and interesting shells.

A man with a metal detector was scouring the sand. Hadn’t found much though—an old nail that appeared to be square cut, raising the possibility that it came from a  wooden shipwreck—although that would be a remote possibility.

Of course 70 degrees in February is different than 70 degrees in July, but today was a great tease for the upcoming season.

And…it looks as though we’ll have a few more days like today on tap.

TS Irma? Maybe but Rain and Wind on OBX Tuesday

When it gets too nasty to do nourishment work. Nourishment equipment parked at Wilkin's Street ramp in Kitty Hawk.
When it gets too nasty to do nourishment work. Nourishment equipment parked at Wilkins Street ramp in Kitty Hawk.

Will the latest system off the South Carolina coast become Tropical Storm Irma? Does it really matter?

The answers are, in the order asked: Maybe, although it’s looking a bit doubtful. And…no not really.

Will It Get a Name?

Naming a tropical system means the storm has met certain criteria that the National Weather Service uses to designate a tropical system. Mostly that there is a core of circulation with thunderstorms forming around that core.

Potential Tropical Cyclone Ten, which will become TS Irma if it is named, does not have a well-defined center of circulation. So poorly defined is what might be a center of circulation that the National Hurricane Center isn’t sure exactly where it is, or if there is one…at least in their 11 p.m. report.

What Potential Tropical Cyclone Ten is at this point is nasty coastal storm. It’s a little bit like a strong nor’easter only a lot warmer. There’s a lot of wind and rain, but a far cry from some of the more powerful nor’easters or tropical systems we’ve seen.

If Potential Tropical Cyclone Ten was named Irma tomorrow, that wouldn’t change anything. The all of the forecast models are in agreement that the storm will brush the Outer Banks and then hurry out to sea. Whether it’s a named storm or just a strong one, the track of the system remains the same and there’s very little chance it will intensify by tomorrow.

Effect on Beach Nourishment

This is the first test of the sections of beach that have been nourished. We haven’t had a chance to see what’s happening along the shoreline yet, although a quick first glimpse in Kitty Hawk seemed to indicate all is well.

There will be some loss of sand, but that is a design feature. The sand will form a sandbar that is the first line of protection for the shoreline.

It’s important to remember that beach nourishment is a shoreline protection tool. A byproduct of the process is a wider beach, but reason for nourishment project is to protect infrastructure and property.

Beach Nourishment Begins in Duck

Beach nourishment construction zone in Duck.
Beach nourishment construction zone in Duck.

The first 200’ of the Dare County Intra-Local Beach Nourishment project has been competed in Duck.

Crews been working last week and made good progress in spite of some thunderstorms that rolled through the area. The schedule is pretty aggressive so crews are working seven days a week.

A Construction Zone

Beach nourishment calls for an active construction zone, and Great Lades Dredge Company, who has the contract to place the sand on the beach, has a lot of experience in the field. As a consequence the area they are working in is clearly marked as a construction zone.

Plans call for minimizing the impact of the project for Outer Banks visitors. Construction zones, as an example, are limited to 500’, creating plenty of sandy space on both sides.

Planned Schedule

The first phase in Duck should take 45 days. Equipment will then be moved to Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores. Southern Shores is a bit late to the nourishment party, the decision to nourish about a half mile of shoreline came after Hurricane Matthew devastated the beach in front of Pelican Watch.

Southern Shores did not officially vote to participate until March of this year.

The Kitty Hawk portion of the project is the most involved and according to the design team from Coastal Planning and Engineering of North Carolina the work will take 74 days, beginning in early July and ending in September.

Included in that work is a one week window in June to complete the Southern Shores portion.

Work in Kill Devil Hills will being in August and plans call for it to take about 40 days.

The appearance of the Duck beach is typical of a newly nourished area. Much wider than it was before nourishment, by design a portion of that sand will be returning to the sea to create a protective sandbar.

Beach nourishment does take a long-term commitment. Typically a beach has to be renourished in five to seven years. The Nags Head beach, which was nourished in 2011, is due to for a touch next year, seven years after the first phase of their project ended.

Replenishing, however, is not as expensive as the first go around nor does it take as long.

Southern Shores Approves Beach Nourishment

Reasons for beach nourishment. Numbers 1 and 3 are particularly relevant for Southern Shores.
Reasons for beach nourishment. Numbers 1 and 4 are particularly relevant for Southern Shores.
Town Council Agrees It’s Needed

After months of debate and hesitation, beach nourishment is coming to the town of Southern Shores.

After Hurricane Matthew devastated the shoreline in front of Pelican Watch, just north of Kitty Hawk Pier, residents asked the town council if it would be possible to piggyback on the Kitty Hawk portion of the Dare County Intra-local beach nourishment project.

On Monday, March 6, by a vote of 4-1 the Town Council decided to move forward with the project. Councilman Gary McDonald, concerned about ongoing cost commitments, voted agains the proposal.

Cost Savings

If the Town Council had not approved the measure at this time, the cost of nourishing the beach would have been far more expensive in the future. By taking advantage of existing equipment in place, Southern Shores was able to get the best possible price for the project.

The next opportunity to piggyback on a local project if town council had not reached an agreement would be next year when Nags Head replenishes their beach. However, because Nags Head is father away from Southern Shores than Kitty Hawk, the expense would be greater.

The Intra-local agreement stipulates a 50/50 cost sharing between the county and the town that are participating. With the addition of Southern Shores, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and Duck are now part of the program.

As a late comer to the agreement, Southern Shores does have a slightly different payment arrangement with the county agreeing to pay up to $500,000 of shared cost. Although project engineers have not given a final cost estimate, there is confidence the final price tag will not exceed $1 million.

Southern Shores will fund their portion of the project with a special $150,000 assessment on the 26 beachfront properties affected and with funds from general revenues.

The portion of the beach that will be nourished is approximately 2500’ north of the Kitty Hawk town line.

The project will begin in late June.

Meetings Highlight Outer Banks Beach Nourishment

Julien Devisse of Coastal Planning and Engineering speaking at Kill Devil Hills.
Julien Devisse of Coastal Planning and Engineering discussing beach nourishment at Kill Devil Hills.

With beach nourishment scheduled to begin in May in the towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills–and maybe Southern Shores, the contractor for the project, Coastal Engineering held a series of informational meetings Wednesday and Thursday.

Traveling with Coastal Engineering was a representative from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, the company that will be pumping the sand on the beach.

The presentation in each town was geared toward the work that was being done there, but much of the presentation was consistent.


The work, as an example, will be done in 1000’ sections, and as construction is underway, the public, for safety reasons, will not be permitted in the work zone.

Julien Devisse from Coastal Engineering had the task of explaining how nourishment works.

Using graphs he showed how, over time, sand from a nourished beach typically moves off shore to form a protective sand bar that helps to dissipate the fore of incoming waves.

He also discussed the timetable.

Work is scheduled to begin in Duck in mid May with a planned completion date in late June or early July.

Kitty Hawk will begin in mid June and should wrap up by mid August.

Plans call for Kill Devil Hills nourishment to begin in early August and be completed by mid September.

Devisse did caution, though, that there were a number of factors that could influence the schedule—weather is certainly one of the factors. He also noted, however, that the dredges were pumping sand almost continuously and that given the abrasive nature of sand, equipment failures could occur.


According to the representative from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock the borrow areas, which is where the sand is located that will be brought to the beach, is about six miles off shore and is considered easily accessible with good quality sand.

Although there are conditions under which it will not  be able to operate, the dredge can continue its work in seas up to 8’.

Federal regulations require monitoring for sea turtles. N.E.S.T. will be monitoring construction zones to insure no nesting sea turtles are disturbed.

Southern Shores and Beach Nourishment

From Spencer Rogers presentation: a top ten need to know nourishment list.
From Spencer Rogers presentation: a top ten need to know nourishment list.

Is Southern Shores moving toward nourishment for its beaches?

The Town Council has not taken a vote yet, but if public sentiment is any indication, about a half mile of beach on the southern end of the town where it borders on Kitty Hawk will be nourished.

That is the sentiment that seemed to emerge from an informational forum the town held at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday evening.

The forum consisted of five speakers and a public comment period. Although there was some opposition to from the audience, most of the speakers favored the idea.

With historically stable beaches, Southern Shores chose not to participate in the intra-county plan to nourish beaches in Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. However, over the past seven years, the shoreline in front of Pelican Watch has retreated almost 120’ and properties in the subdivision are threatened.

Although there had been concern about the beach in that area, Hurricane Matthew caused so much loss of dune and beach, residents felt something had to be done.

Hoping to Piggyback

What Southern Shores is hoping to do is piggyback on the already planned project in Kitty Hawk. Slated to begin in June, if Southern Shores does vote to proceed and is able to get the necessary permits, the cost savings would be huge.

The savings would be realized because equipment is already in place and the amount of additional sand that would have to be pumped onto the beach is relatively minor. The current plan calls for a taper area extending into Southern Shores. Additional sand would widen the beach in the taper area and move the taper north.

What the Experts Said

The speakers were four scientists, Spencer Rogers of Sea Grant, Reide Corbett for the Coastal Studies Institute, Tim Kana of Coastal Studies Engineering and Ken Wilson from Coastal Planning & Engineering. Former Nags Head Mayor Bob Oakes was also on hand to discuss the town’s experience with nourishment. Nags Head is the only town on the Outer Banks that has nourished its beaches.

The consensus among the speakers was that beach nourishment is an effective mitigation tool for the protection of shorelines, but it is not a one size fits all solution.

The scientists did address the situation at Pelican Watch directly, indicating beach nourishment would give at least a temporary reprieve from the encroaching ocean. However, there was also agreement that longer term studies and observations would have to be done to determine if nourishment was a long term solution.

The forum was extremely well attended with over 250 members of the public on hand.

OBX Beach Nourishment a Go for 2017

Kitty Hawk Beach during a storm. Kitty Hawk is particularly vulnerable to ocean encroachment.
Kitty Hawk Beach during a storm. Kitty Hawk is particularly vulnerable to ocean encroachment.

Beach nourishment is back on track and will begin in the spring of 2017. Originally scheduled to begin for the towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills in April of this year, initial bids were $4 million over estimates and were rejected.

A number of officials expressed the view that the dredging companies qualified to handle the task were tied up with a major project on the Mississippi River this year and did not feel an urgency to place competitive bids.

It would appear as though that was the case. The winning bid from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company was $4.9 million less than the $43 million set aside for the project. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company was the company that handled the Nags Head project in 2011.

Beach nourishment is being funded through an intralocal agreement requiring the towns to pay 40% of the cost and the county picking up the rest of the tab. The towns have created Municipal Service Districts (MSD) with properties closest to the beach paying additional property tax.

In Dare County, the Nags Head was the pioneer in beach nourishment. Although there have been some issues with sand encroaching on properties, there has been no property damage caused by ocean overwash since the town’s project was completed in 2011.

If all goes as planned nourishment will begin in April of 2017.

Anticipated Project Schedule Provided by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company:

Town of Duck

Start Date: April 1, 2017

End Date: June 1, 2017

Town of Kitty Hawk

Start Date: June 1, 2017

End Date: August 20, 2017

Town of Kill Devil Hill

Start Date: August 20, 2017

End Date: October 10, 2017

OBX Nourishment Delayed

Kitty Hawk beach in the summer. Nourishment would widen the beach and protect beachfront properties.
Kitty Hawk beach in the summer. Nourishment would widen the beach and protect beachfront properties.

Delayed but still on the horizon, beach nourishment will be a part of the Outer Banks future.

Participants in an Intralocal Agreement between Dare County and the towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills had hoped to begin nourishing local beaches this summer. However, when the bids were opened, they were about 20% higher than expected.

Officials working with the program felt that at least some of cost overrun was attributable to scheduling conflicts from the dredge companies. The major component of the cost of beach nourishment is dredging sand from the sea floor and pumping it to the beach.

There is currently considerable dredging activity on the Mississippi River —at least one of the companies asked for an extension because of scheduling concerns. The hope is that without the prospect of a sure job in other places, the bids will come in closer to the estimate.

There are still concerns though. The town of Kitty Hawk held a special Town Council meeting to vote on whether to continue in the intralocal agreement. By a vote of 4-1 the council agreed to remain a part of the process. The mayor, Gary Perry, voted against continuing.

According to a written statement from Perry, there are still almost 40 unsigned easements from property owners. Without the easements, the town will have to take legal action to provide a limited condemnation of properties that would allow workers access to the beach.

Perry cited worries about legal costs and cost overruns of the project in voting to opt out.

County and town officials are hoping for a fall start to the nourishment process, although spring of 2017 seems more likely.