Town, wind, calmer seas flatten curious cliff on section of beach

By on August 16, 2018

A stretch of beach in Nags Head has started smoothing back out as predicted after an 8- to 10-foot-tall escarpment formed last month just north of Jennette’s Pier.

Deputy Town Manager Andy Garman said the beach access at Gray Eagle Street reopened last Thursday, after the town was given permission by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management to level down the cliff that Mother Nature had already started taking care of.

Heavy surf in the second half of July coupled with a King Tide, or perigean spring tide when the moon is at its closest approach to the Earth, took advantage of a gap in offshore sandbars that formed a couple of hundred yards north of the pier.

“That deep water had been already been forming for awhile,” said Garman, who is an avid surfer. “That’s why we didn’t see much of a break north of the pier.”

With a wide gape in the sandbars, known as a slough, there was nothing to lessen the energy from the southerly swell, allowing waves to run farther up the beach and start quickly chewing at the dune line.

“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,” Tim Kana, president of Coastal Science and Engineering, said at the time the escarpment developed.

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.

Known as an “erosional arc,” Kana said, the situation at Gray Eagle was similar to what started in May 2015 at the intersection of N.C. 12 and Kitty Hawk Road.

High surf washed 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 developed along other parts of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk beach at roughly the same time. But not to the height of the one that popped up at Gray Eagle, which attracted the attention of beachgoers who posted pictures and video on social media that was picked up by out-of-town media outlets.

Once the winds shifted back to the southwest and west, the normal pattern for late summer, and no offshore storm activity helped to generate an onshore swell, the sand bars off Gray Eagle started building back up.

The gentler wave action rolling up the beach picks up sand and washes it back into the nearshore, filling in the deep water holes.

“It wasn’t very long after the wind shift that we saw the break on the north side of the pier start to produce again,” Garman said.

And while there is still a noticeable dropoff closer to the water line, the stretch of beach between the Sea Foam and Owens motels and Cahoon’s Supermarket are still narrow, things aren’t as dire as they appeared a month ago.

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  • Bud

    Erosion is what dune lines cause..

    Thursday, Aug 16 @ 11:46 am
  • Mike

    the outer banks really needs to study the creation of a outer man made reef beyond the breakers to reduce the energy of the tides, or you will just continue to re-nourish the beaches endlessly.

    Thursday, Aug 16 @ 11:56 am
  • Steve

    That is what dune lines cause, erosion..

    Thursday, Aug 16 @ 5:00 pm
  • voidLess1

    I think Cahoon’s Cottages and like should pay a premium for beach nourishment. The beneficial factor for an oceanfront business is an unscaled imbalance. You might consider it a “sand tax’ for those applicable.

    Friday, Aug 17 @ 7:20 pm
  • Steve H

    A sand tax is a ridiculous idea.

    Saturday, Aug 18 @ 10:02 am