King Tide, surf carve out 10-foot cliff on part of Nags Head beach

By on July 24, 2018

The escarpment has become a point of curiosity for visitors, especially on a dreary day like Tuesday. (Rob Morris)

The escarpment is just north of Jennette’s Pier. (Ryan Torrance)

A cliff about 10 feet high has developed along the dune line on part of the Nags Head beach, thanks to the recent high tides and heavy surf.

Known as an escarpment, the cliff off Gray Eagle Street near Whalebone Junction is the work of a King Tide and an unusually persistent flow of wind and waves.

A King Tide, or perigean spring tide, happens several times a year when the moon is at its closest point to Earth. The most recent was on July 12 to 15, with the next one predicted for Aug. 9 to 12.

“The way the back beach and toe of dune have built up over the past seven years, the escarpments will be higher than normal until the (beach) profile equiliberates,” said Tim Kana, president of Coastal Science and Engineering.

The firm designed the town’s beach nourishment project in 2011, and will be engineering the renourishment effort that has been delayed until next year.

Kana said it appears an “erosional arc” has developed along the Gray Eagle Street area. Waves are able to roll farther onto the beach because of a deeper break in the sandbars offshore that would normally dissipate wave energy.

This is similar to what started in May 2015 at the intersection of N.C. 12 and Kitty Hawk Road, with high surf washing away the dune and the Beach Road in that area multiple times until the Kitty Hawk beach nourishment project was completed last fall.

Smaller escarpments have developed along other parts of Nags Head’s beach in the past year, but not to the height of the one that popped up at Gray Eagle.

“Thankfully the dune continues to protect property,” said Nags Head Town Manager Cliff Ogburn.

“It does seem to be concentrated in this small area. With a return to southwest winds we should see this level out some.”


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  • Watch what you say!

    Looks like the North end may need their beach nourishment taxes tripled as some of the commissioners have threatened to do to South Nags Head!

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 12:09 pm
  • Bud

    That is what dune-lines cause, increased erosion. It has long been known and proven. Overwash needs to be permitted to flow west..

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 1:08 pm
  • Windy Bill

    Several decades old hydrographic charts show a slight westward curve in the first depth line near NC12 / Kitty Hawk Road. Could this be the historic outlet for the Roanoke River? If so, the material that filled it in would be softer and more prone to erosion. Maybe that is also true for Gray Eagle?

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 2:17 pm
  • Confused

    If confused…if the last King tide was ended on July 15, and the next one isn’t until August, then how is this the result of a combination of King Tides and large surf on July 23?

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 2:36 pm
  • Sam Walker

    The initial escarpment started with the King Tide, this week’s rough surf just added to it.

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 2:47 pm
  • Really?

    Double the taxes!! Need more sand! Don’t worry people, the sand is in the ” box” Lol !!

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 2:45 pm
  • Mike

    Artificial reef. Or we can keep paying for sand.

    Tuesday, Jul 24 @ 8:36 pm
  • Bud

    The lines of dune is what caused this, not the ocean.

    Wednesday, Jul 25 @ 5:27 am
  • Sean

    I glad bud knows so much if it wernt for him we would be stupid

    Wednesday, Jul 25 @ 8:10 am
  • Bud

    Not caused by king tide or the surf. It is dune-lines that cause this. Overwash must be allowed to flow!

    Wednesday, Jul 25 @ 10:23 am
  • Bud

    Glad to help, there is a lot of stupidity during tourist season.

    Wednesday, Jul 25 @ 2:49 pm
  • voidLess1

    Risk/Reward……..Those who have, and are benefiting from buying Ocean front should assume a Larger portion of that BIG risk alone. LISTEN, )))
    Don’t drink the kool-aid folks, let the chips fall, Beach Nourishment Cost should be”on” Ocean Front owners, occupancy tax, and the County, Period.
    Now go ahead and, tell me about the sun, not rising, limited school funds, No trash pick up, barely any fire and rescue and poor wages w/o more beach and more tourist.)

    Wednesday, Jul 25 @ 8:51 pm
  • Local

    @ Bud. The ocean had NOTHING to do with this??? What is your degree?

    Thursday, Jul 26 @ 10:51 am
  • Rainkat

    Local & Sean drop the rudeness and sarcasm. You are showing your egos… largely.
    This is supposed to be a discussion not a bashing contest. And furthermore if you are going to try to bash someone get your stuff straight first. Bud never said the ocean had nothing to do with it.
    As with Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet etc. these sands will continue to shift for eternity. It is a combination of wind, rain, tide, planets, gravity, time and man-made structures.
    If you want to live on the ocean you have to expect and accept the risks that come with it. Every single person that is intelligent enough to build on an oceanfront is also intelligent enough to know that they are taking a huge risk. If they can’t handle what nature is going to do and are determined to manipulate it; then they should pay for it out of their pocket. They should also be held liable for any damage they cause to their neighbors and or other areas by having installed impedements of natural water flow or manipulation of the natural lay of the land. You’ve got to pay to play. They are also intelligent enough to know that as long as we are quiet about it they can continue to do exactly as they please. It is up to all of us as citizens to make certain that all parties act responsibly and abide by the bylaws set in place for our safety and well-being not to mention the preservation of our own homes and land.

    The more the natural coastline is manipulated; the more mother nature will do what she does best… Have her own way.

    Thursday, Jul 26 @ 1:04 pm
  • Just Me

    Rainkat- Perfect. Absolutely love your response. I’m with you 100%.

    Friday, Jul 27 @ 10:41 am
  • Local

    @Rainkat. Bud directly states “The lines of dune is what caused this, not the ocean.” Also, read his bashing of the “stupidity of the tourist”. Get you “stuff”straight.

    Friday, Jul 27 @ 10:07 pm