On OBX, the enduring rituals of the big storm

By on September 7, 2019

Another storm is behind us. When Hurricane Dorian’s winds swept to our north late Friday afternoon, those who had stayed here emerged from our homes to look around, to exchange notes with our neighbors, to be thankful, or to mourn.

Those of us north of Oregon Inlet fared pretty well; those to the south were devastated by flooding. In Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, where flooding wasn’t too severe, people gathered spontaneously at Nags Head Pier and Avalon Pier, both of which suffered damage. Others strolled over to the beach, or cruised the Beach Road.

Storms are an occupational hazard of living on the Outer Banks, but it seems now that the mean ones are happening more frequently, before we have time to recover from the last.

So much energy is expended to get ready, to cope with the fear of what could happen, and sometimes, what does happen — such as what Ocracoke and Hatteras Islanders are dealing with now. Even when a storm ‘s impacts are not too bad, when everyone counts their blessings and breathes a sigh of relief, people still feel burned out from the roller coaster of intensity-waiting-intensity-waiting.

Depending on the level of fear and destruction we experienced before and during the storm, the degree of exhaustion post-hurricane may feel like the morning after a big party, or a gigantic riot, or a terrifying battle. It is always eerie at the next light, when the sun is shining but the surroundings have been altered.

Waiting out a storm can also have magical moments.  As I waited Thursday evening for Hurricane Dorian to arrive, I took a bicycle ride to the oceanfront in Nags Head during the infamous “calm before the storm” — before the wind is too powerful, and when the sky is surreal.

And after the crowds are all gone.

There’s a pattern we locals follow when a hurricane looms.  Yes, we prepare — enough said. Some of us might prefer to wait it out elsewhere.  But the ones who stay savor the beauty of the strange light, the crackling rawness of nature: the extra salty pungent air. The psychedelic sky with sculpted, uber-3-D clouds.  The heaving ocean surf that is the color of wet cement.

I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes on the Outer Bank starting with Hurricane Fran in 1996.  Improved scientific data and increased climate change risks have merged, in a cruel irony, to prolong the agony and make storms feel even more stressful — almost as if you’re told you’re at high risk of getting a terrible disease, and here are all your options. And by the way, make your decision within two days.

There’s an adrenaline surge before storms that creates a mix of anxiety and hyper-activity, in degrees that vary from person to person. Which of course explains the need to up the household’s alcohol supplies. If not alcohol, it will be another soother of choice, whether sweets, pasta or pharmaceuticals. Whatever it is, the ritual abides.

Even people like myself, who have always worked before and after a storm, will have down time before it arrives. Invariably, folks will go to beach to see the spectacle of a storm-maddened ocean, until the wind starts sandblasting them. But if you find the right access, the show can go on without suffering sand blindness.

With the sun low in the sky, and Dorian lumbering straight towards the Outer Banks, the beach was especially cinematic.  I stood at an overlook and watched seabirds expertly navigating wild wind gusts, carving twists and turns and leaps like surfers and skateboarders.

Nearby, a woman was taking a cell-phone video of the seething surf, oblivious to the seabird acrobatics above her. After scanning the scene with her phone, she quickly turned away and left, wordlessly. I was surprised, because usually people are amped up and very friendly and talkative before storms.

Now that Dorian is gone, the clean-up starts. As Outer Bankers do after every storm, each community will come together to help those who were hit hardest and left worse off – this time, of course, it’s Hatteras and Ocracoke.

And then, with new lessons learned, we’ll prepare for the next storm.



Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).



  • Ruthless

    Catherine, beautiful observations. Thank you for putting the experience into words.

    Saturday, Sep 7 @ 7:43 pm
  • Mickey Mouse

    I know that the Outer Banks always get the Top Notch attention.
    However, the Currituck Mainland seems to get their power back on last!
    It’s 8:13 Saturday night and we still have no power in the Jarvisburg up to Point Harbor.
    Can anyone let us know why we are at the end of the line

    Saturday, Sep 7 @ 8:20 pm
  • Mike McD

    Beautifully written! You’re an amazing writer. You captured it!

    Sunday, Sep 8 @ 5:52 am
  • Steve

    Here in Rodanthe there was little effect from storm. We did not get much wind or rain and the beach is beautiful now that is is clean.

    Sunday, Sep 8 @ 6:24 am
  • Louis

    Thanks for a great read, I have longed to be a member of the OB community and hopefully will be moving down soon. You delicately described the magic of the area and the people, and we look forward to join your ranks , willing to help our neighbors and community. And to enjoy the magic of the Ocean.

    Sunday, Sep 8 @ 6:27 am
  • Kevin Kozak

    Wow sister! What beautiful writing!

    Sunday, Sep 8 @ 1:40 pm